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The Tasman Bridge is a five-lane bridge crossing the Derwent River, near the CBD of Hobart, Tasmania. The bridge has a total length (including approaches) of 1,395m – longer than the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It provides the main traffic route from the CBD (on the western shore) to the eastern shore - particularly Hobart International Airport and Bellerive Oval. It has a pedestrian footway on each side, but no dedicated lane for bicycles. However, steps to the pedestrian footway have recently been replaced with on-ramps.
In the 1950s with the development of the Eastern shore (the old Hobart Bridge faced increasing difficulty in managing the larger volumes of traffic, and the bridge itself - constantly raising the lift span for shipping) it was decided to build a larger bridge. Construction started on the bridge in 1960. It was completed, and then opened to traffic on August 17, 1964 as a four lane bridge.
On Sunday January 5, 1975, at 9:27pm, the Tasman Bridge was struck by the bulk ore carrier Lake Illawarra, bound for the Electrolytic Zinc Company with a cargo of 10,000 tons of zinc concentrate (AusStats, 2002). It caused two pylons and three sections of concrete decking, totalling 127 metres, to fall from the bridge and sink the ship. Seven of the ship's crewmen were killed, and five motorists died when four cars drove over the collapsed sections before the traffic was stopped. A major press shot showed a 3,000km old Holden Monaro GTS, along with an older EK Holden stationwagon, perched balancing on the ledge.
The depth of the river at this point (35 metres) is such that the wreck of Lake Illawarra lies on the bottom, with concrete slab on top of it, without presenting a navigation hazard to smaller vessels.
The breakage of an important arterial link isolated the residents in Hobart’s eastern suburbs – the relatively short drive across the Tasman Bridge to the city suddenly became a 50 kilometre journey via the estuary's next bridge at Bridgewater. The only other vehicular crossing within Hobart after the bridge collapsed was the Risdon Punt, a cable ferry which crossed the river from East Risdon and Risdon, some five kilometres upstream from the bridge. However, it was totally inadequate, carrying only eight cars on each crossing, and although ferries provided a service across the Derwent River, it was not until December 1975 that a single lane Bailey bridge was opened to traffic, thereby restoring some connectivity.
Reconstruction of the Tasman Bridge commenced in October 1975 and included the addition of a 5th lane. Another important factor of the reconstruction is the improved safety measures. Some examples:
- Large vessels passing beneath the bridge must now do so slightly to the west of the original main navigation span.
- Personnel controlling ships (or harbour pilots) must be trained and then cleared for using the special laser lighthouse that indicates by colours whether the ship must be steered left or right to regain the centre line.
- All road traffic is now halted whilst large vessels transit beneath the bridge.
The bridge officially reopened on October 8, 1977.