Built between 1968 and 1978, the West Gate Bridge is an integral part of Melbourne's freeway network and a vital east-west transport link connecting Melbourne's western suburbs and the Princes Freeway route to Geelong and beyond, with the centre of the city. Designed to replace the Williamstown Ferry that had operated across the lower Yarra between Fisherman's Bend and Newport since 1931, it was constructed by the Lower Yarra Crossing Authority and initialled opened as a tollway - the first 'user pays' road in Melbourne for over a century.
Since it first began to rise above the mud flats of the lower Yarra, the West Gate Bridge has been a key local landmark that Melburnians quickly took to heart, and it remains the city's best recognised international engineering landmark. Towering high above the river flats with its sweeping approach spans and 102-metre high twin cable-stay towers, it is Victoria's highest and second-longest bridge, with an overall length of 2,582 metres, including approach spans.
Its innovative design was of international significance, at the time, with the world's longest cable-stayed steel girder span. On 15 October 1970, the West Gate Bridge made international headlines when a partially completed 367-ft (112 m) box girder span between piers 10 and 11 collapsed, killing 35 workers and seriously injuring 18 others. A Royal Commission was appointed to investigate the cause of the disaster. Following design alterations construction of the West Gate Bridge recommenced in 1972, and was finally completed in 1978, at a cost of $202 million - over eight times the original estimate.
While Sydney-siders had been used to paying tolls for decades to cross their Harbour Bridge, the tolls initially charged on all private & commercial vehicles crossing the West Gate Bridge were unpopular with Melburnians and after just six years they were abolished early in the first term of Cain Labor Government. Within 12-months of opening, the bridge was carrying 22,000 vehicles a day, and by 1998 it was carrying 140,000 vehicles daily, with some 570 million vehicle crossings having been made in total over the previous 20 years.