History of the Bridge

Bridges of the past

Prior to the building of the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge that we know today, there were several earlier bridges that crossed the Molonglo River (pre-Lake Burley Griffin) in its place. 

The first of these earlier bridges was built in 1916, shortly after the establishment of Canberra as the National Capital in 1913. The bridge suffered damage during floods in 1922 and a second bridge replaced it in 1924. The second bridge employed a timber truss design. In the following year flood waters rose again resulting in the need to reinforce the bridge. 

The third bridge was constructed, this time by adding height, and a fourth truss to the design of the second bridge. This work was completed in 1927. As the city continued to develop a fourth (and the current bridge) was called for  in order to serve the growing population of Canberra and one that could withstand the test of time.

Old black and white photo of former Commonwealth Avenue Bridge captured from the side
Old black and white photo of former Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and surrounds captured from the side
Image credit: NAA A1200, L7654 and NAA A1200, L7658



The brief for the design of the current bridge was submitted by the National Capital Development Commission in 1959. British firm, Maunsell and Partners were the successful tenderer for their original design of the 311 metre long bridge.

The design was refined to cope with the hot Australian conditions which caused greater moisture loss in the concrete structure than what was standard in British bridges. 

To meet these demands, the Bridge was constructed using pre-stressed concrete, and reinforced with steel and epoxy resin. 

At the time this was an innovative construction methodology, and upon its opening in 1963, the bridge was described as "the finest building in the National Capital" by Prime Minister Menzies.

Black and white photo of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge captured from the side
Black and white photo of car passing beneath Commonwealth Avenue Bridge
Image credit: NAA A7973 and NAA A1200, L47601


Connection to The Waterloo Bridge

Under the north and south abutments of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge are a pair of two-tonne historic stones from Waterloo Bridge in London.

Accompanying the stones is a bonze sign with the following inscription.

‘The Waterloo Bridge across the Thames in London was constructed in 1817 to the design of Sir John Rennie. The granite bridge had nine arches, each of 120’ span and was 2,456’ long, including approaches. This bridge was replaced with a modern reinforced concrete bridge in 1942.

Stones from the Waterloo Bridge were presented to Australia and other parts of the British world to become further historic links in the British Commonwealth of Nations’.

Commonwealth Avenue Bridge Waterloo Inscription
Entrance to the inside of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge
Image credit(s): Dom Northcott


Today’s bridge

Although Commonwealth Avenue Bridge is not individually heritage listed, it forms part of the wider heritage listing of Lake Burley Griffin as well as other listings within the Central National Area of Canberra. Commonwealth Avenue also forms one side of the National Triangle.

Each span of the bridge cleverly incorporates service pipelines into the superstructure to discreetly convey sewerage and water from one side of the lake to the other as well as other utilities.  In fact, keen observers will note that the south-east decorative pylon is actually a vent.

Due to its remarkable engineering design the bridge has not undergone any significant maintenance works for sixty years. However, the time for these updates has come. Once the work is completed, the bridge will be strengthened to accommodate the increased weight of modern vehicles and provide better access for pedestrians and cyclists.

View of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge from below
People cycling along Commonwealth Avenue Bridge
Image credit(s): Garth Kirwin