Billions of dollars of new development around Circular Quay has sparked a renewed push for a solution to one of the city’s most notorious eyesores – the Cahill Expressway.
One of the area’s oldest residents, AMP, which built Sydney’s first skyscraper, has urged the NSW government to set its sights on the roadway in its discussions about how to reinvigorate the precinct.
Long pilloried as a blight on the city landscape, the 1950s expressway that carves across Sydney’s famous harbour now sits amid a major building boom. Nearby projects include redevelopments of Gold Fields House, the Gateway and Coca-Cola Amatil buildings, as well as an overhaul of the ferry wharves and construction of the light rail.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating tried and failed to have it buried, but the novel element in the latest suggestion is not to necessarily remove the expressway, but to build around it.
AMP Capital is undertaking a $1 billion redevelopment spanning two nearby city blocks, and said the expressway must be included in the Baird government’s planned renovation of the area’s ferry wharves.
“Let’s not stop at the wharves,” said Louise Mason, the company’s managing director for office and industrial, who applauded the government’s “first vision” to improve Circular Quay.
“It has to go beyond that. Ideally the Cahill goes, but whatever we do we’ve got to make it a far nicer environment than what it is.”
A walkway inspired by New York’s High Line, a Vivid-style lighting display or screens, and retail or cafes “off the edge of it” were all ways the existing structure could be “sleeved” to improve public access to the harbour, she said.
“And it was built to take a lot of load, so all of that’s doable.”
The renewed push to take on the Cahill, echoing recent calls by Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, has won the backing of another major tenant at Circular Quay, the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Museum director Liz Ann Macgregor said it “would welcome a holistic approach to Circular Quay in which the issue of the Cahill Expressway could be addressed”.
The Premier has acknowledged the problem in the precinct’s heart, but said in September that the urban surgery needed to take on the expressway was beyond the scope of that $200 million wharf project, funded by the sale of government property assets.
“If I had a money tree I’d have to shake it a lot,” Mike Baird said.
However, Transport for NSW has since adopted a more neutral tone, noting “although relocating the Cahill Expressway is not included in the scope of the project, we are open to ideas that will improve the harbour precinct”.
“We will be engaging with key stakeholders and the public in due course to hear their ideas for how this iconic location can be transformed to better meet their transport needs and have a significant design that is fitting for Sydney’s harbour gateway,” a spokesman said.
Ms Mason said AMP wanted to step up the discussions about the future of the area, including the expressway, so that Circular Quay better served the gateway to Sydney’s famous harbour.
“How do you make it work commercially” would be another part of the conversation, she added.
The Institute of Architect’s NSW president Shaun Carter said it was important to “think creatively” about what could be done with the structure in order to “make sure that what you do now doesn’t preclude what you can do later”.
Ms Mason also highlighted the experience of AMP’s nearby Quay Quarter Sydney, which this week was granted stage two planning approval.
Spanning 11,000 square metres, the project would boost the precinct by shifting building bulk and offering better public amenity in the form of restaurants and laneways, she said.
“So if we can do it in a private commercial sense, then yes that’s what the state government and the city can also do,” she said.
“It is a very open space as it is, but it needs to be cleaned up.”