This article is written by Brian Madden, Canterbury local historian and author. To make any suggestions for additions, please visit the Discussion Page for this article.
The M5 Motorway passes through the City of Canterbury close to the southern boundary.
The Cumberland County Council was established in 1945 to plan for the development of the Sydney metropolitan area, and particularly to deal with the anticipated growth in motor traffic.
Its report in 1948 provided for six major expressways, ring roads and other major road works, one of which was the South-Western Expressway from Alexandria through the Wolli Creek Valley to the Hume Highway south of Liverpool. Over the years, the name changed from an “expressway” to a “freeway”, then from the F5 Freeway to the M5 Motorway.
The motorway west of King Georges Road was constructed as a toll road, and the section from Casula to Fairford Road opened in August 1992, and from Fairford Road to King Georges Road in October 1992.
The construction of the remaining section from King Georges Road to the Airport, known as the M5 East, was proposed as a surface road through the Wolli Creek Valley. This caused considerable discussion, leading eventually to the decision to build a tunnel from Bexley Road. A regional park under the auspices of the National Parks and Wildlife Service was established in the Wolli Creek Valley.
The tunnel was built with government funds and toll-free. It was officially opened on 9 December 2001. This was followed by a walk through the tunnel from Bexley Road to Marsh Street, Arncliffe by a reported 35,000 people. Vehicles began to use the tunnel at 3.30 am on Monday 10 December 2001. This was 53 years after it was first proposed!
It wasn’t long before the tunnel became congested in peak hours, and, in 2009, a proposal to further widen the M5 west of Bexley Road and to duplicate the tunnel was announced. Currently (2014) the new tunnel, with a toll, is proposed as part of the WestConnex motorway project.
Brian Madden, 2014