State Route 88 : History and Development
On 7 August 1928, the road between Picton and Wilton was declared part of Main Road No. 179 and the road between Wilton and West Wollongong (via Mt Keira) was proclaimed Main Road No. 186.
On 18 August 1939, the entire route between Picton and Fairy Meadow (via Maldon, Wilton and Mount Ousley Road) was declared Main Road No. 502, consolidating the classifications of the Picton-Wollongong route.
On 12 June 1970 Main Road No. 502 was decommissioned and replaced by the Trunk Road No. 95 classification. This had the effect of raising the Department of Main Roads’ financial responsibility for the road from two-thirds to full cost, necessitated by the expansion of coal traffic from the mines around Picton/Nattai and the development of Port Kembla.
On 2 November 1984, as part of a review of road classifications in the area, Trunk Road No. 95 was truncated at the junction with Hume Highway (also declared on that day) near Wilton. The remainder of the route into Picton was re-declared as part of Main Road No. 612, which extends beyond Picton to Oakdale.
In 1986, with the passing of the State Roads Act, the Trunk Road classification was deleted and all former Trunk Roads were incorporated into the Main Roads classification, keeping their number. Thus Trunk Road No. 95 became Main Road No. 95.
The current legal classifications pertaining to State Route 88 are:
The road from Wilton to Wollongong can trace its origins back to the 1830s establishment of the first road from Sydney to the Illawarra region, via Campbelltown, Appin, Wilton and Mt Keira. This road, following the modern-day routes of Wilton Rd, Macarthur Dr, Picton Rd and Mt Keira Rd, carried all vehicular traffic until 1867 when improvements to Bulli Pass made possible the passage of carriages down it. From the 1870s onwards, the Wilton to Wollongong route lost importance as a route for through traffic and carried only light inter-regional traffic, thus falling into disrepair until the advent of the motor car.
During World War 2, it was at one point likely, with the entrance of the Japanese into the War in 1942, that war operations would reach the eastern coast of Australia. To prepare Sydney for any possible invasion, the Department of Main Roads was commissioned to construct a number of special defence routes, which would provide alternatives should the existing main routes out of Sydney (the Pacific, Princes and Great Western Highways) be severed. One of these defence routes was the construction of an alternative to the existing tortuous Bulli Pass (on the Princes Highway between Sydney and Wollongong) and Mount Keira Road to allow easier movement between the Illawarra, Sydney and inland NSW. A route via Mount Ousley was selected and construction was carried out during 1942 on what is now Mount Ousley Road. From Mount Ousley Road at the top of the range, a 3km link was built to connect with the existing Mt Keira Road, which was also improved as far as Wilton. The Wollongong-Mount Ousley-Wilton route is identical to that now followed by State Route 88.
The route from Picton to Wilton traces its origins back to an early road from Sydney to Picton (then known as Stonequarry), via Campbelltown, Appin, Wilton and Maldon. This route was soon superseded as the Main South Road by the original Hume Highway, via Camden and the Razorback Range. However, the route via Appin and Wilton still carried a fair amount of traffic. The main obstacle facing travellers on this route was the crossing of the Nepean River, which resides in a deep gorge south of Douglas Park. The first improved crossing at Maldon was by way of a stone causeway some 80 feet below the site of the suspension bridge, however “the approaches were steep and difficult, and the crossing was constantly being damaged by floods, causing delays to traffic and heavy expenditure in maintenance.” (DMR, 1978b, p.61) This crossing place had come to be known as Harvey’s Crossing and was one of only two road crossings of the Nepean River between Menangle and Picton. In the late nineteenth century, the Department of Public Works began investigations for the location to construct a bridge crossing the Nepean River between Menangle and Picton.
It was decided that the Maldon site offered advantages over any other site from both a traffic and engineering perspective. To meet the needs of the site, the bridge was designed unusually:
“The main bridge is a stiffened suspension structure of an uncommon type, in as much as the main cables after leaving the towers are carried upwards to an anchorage in the sandstone cliff above the bridge instead of downwards as is usually the case. The main span is 226 feet (68.9m) long, carried by suspension rods from the cables, of which there are fourteen on either side of the bridge…The roadway is of timber planking 15 feet (4.6m) wide between kerbs, carried on stringers and cross-girders. In addition to the main span, there are seven timber approach spans, built on a curve to meet the roadway on either side of the river. The approaches include a considerable retaining wall on the Maldon side.” (DMR, 1978b, p.61)
Work was commenced by the Department of Public Works early in 1901 and the bridge was opened to traffic on 3 February 1903. The route of the Picton-Wilton road (now State Route 88) at this time was via the present day routes of Picton Rd, Maldon Bridge Road, Maldon Bridge, Wilton Park Rd, Condell Park Rd and Hornby Street. On 14 January, 1939, a fire extensively damaged the original bridge. The downstream tower at the Maldon end was completely destroyed. The cable it had supported dropped by 5m, twisting the end of the bridge and thrusting is almost 2m downstream. The fire also caused extensive damage to the other timber towers, the all-timber deck and the short timber beam approach spans. (DMR, 1978a, p.56)
On a positive note, investigations revealed that the cables were not damaged in any way by the heat, nor was the downstream cable stretched by the collapse of the tower and the fall of the span at the Maldon end. However, the steel trusses were twisted during the partial collapse, and local distortions to the lower chords of the trusses had occurred due to the heat from the burning deck timbers. (DMR, 1978a, p.56)
The bridge was reconstructed by the Department of Main Roads during 1939-40 and, to safeguard against future fire damage, steel towers were used, supported by the old concrete abutments.
With the decision to construct a new bridge came the opportunity to improve the length of road between Picton and Wilton, so the Department of Main Roads set out to find the most suitable route. Constraints on the selection of the route included the need to bridge both the Main Southern Railway Line and the Nepean River gorge, and provide a grade-separated interchange with the proposed F5 – South Western Freeway (now Hume Highway). From eight possible lines, the favoured route was selected and formally accepted in January 1974 following which the DMR began the design of the road and bridges. Design of the new 9.8km route was completed in June 1976 and featured a 7.4m wide pavement, on an excellent vertical and horizontal alignment. The steepest section, on the western approach to the new bridge over the Nepean River, would have a gradient of 6% and a climbing lane would be provided.
Construction of the deviation, which stretched from the current intersection of Picton Rd and Maldon Bridge Road at Maldon, to the intersection of Almond and Argyle Streets in Wilton, was commenced in early 1977 with a scheduled completion of 1981 – which would make it available for traffic at the same time as the opening of the Campbelltown-Yanderra section of the South Western Freeway (now Hume Highway). However, the deviation and new bridge over the Nepean River were opened, 9 months early, on 21 April 1980. Following the opening of the deviation, the old bridge was closed to vehicular traffic and the decommissioned sections of the Picton-Wilton road were renamed to their current names: Maldon Bridge Road, Wilton Park Rd, Condell Park Rd and Hornby Street.
Maldon Bridge, following its closure to vehicular traffic, remained open to pedestrians and for a number of years hosted the RUSH Bridgeswing. However, an assessment by the Department of Environment and Heritage and Wollondilly Shire Council in June 2005 found the bridge to be in poor structural condition (DEH, 2006) and the bridge has since been closed to all access. Views of the bridge are still available from the lookout at the end of Maldon Bridge Road (turn right at the gate) and the approaches are still accessible by foot.
The opening of the Maldon-Wilton deviation had dramatically straightened the Picton-Wilton section of State Route 88, which had previously included five right-angle bends as well as the notoriously steep and winding approaches to the Maldon Bridge. At Wilton, State Route 88 continued east along Almond Street, which becomes Wilton Road upon leaving town. From Wilton, State Route 88 traffic bound for Wollongong had to use Wilton Road and Macarthur Road, a circuitous 10km route involving several steeply graded sections in the vicinity of Allens Creek, and a sharp right turn for traffic to get onto Macarthur Drive.
Improvements to the route, however, were mainly focused on widening and realigning the section east of Wilton as far as Mount Keira Road. In the late 1980s two severe truck crashes at the intersection of Wilton Road and Macarthur Drive prompted the Government to accelerate funding for construction of a bypass around Wilton (pers. comm. Paul Rands). Funding was secured from a federal government grant and the bypass was opened to traffic in July 1993.
Since its construction during World War 2, Mount Ousley Road was established by the Department of Main Roads as a replacement to the Princes Highway as the main route between Wollongong and the Illawarra Escarpment. To facilitate this role, the Department began upgrading the route from 1967 onwards. The first improvements were the widening to create a northbound climbing lane – completed 1968, construction of a second lane southbound – completed 1979, a third northbound lane east of New Mount Pleasant Road – completed 1995, a third northbound lane north-west of New Mount Pleasant Road – completed 1998, and the widening of New Mount Pleasant Road overbridge – completed in 2001.
Partly due to the construction of dual carriageways on Mount Ousley Road during the 1970s, a dangerous intersection was created where Picton Road met Mount Ousley Road. With the heavy coal traffic that used Picton Road, it soon became very difficult for eastbound traffic to enter the southbound carriageway of Mount Ousley Road. The problem was overcome with the construction of a grade-separated interchange to replace the at-grade intersection, which opened to traffic in November 1990.
The section between Mount Keira and Mount Ousley Roads was improved by the construction of two climbing lanes, completed in November 1993 and December 1994.