Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study

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The Conclusions and Recommendations of MATS

The Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study, or "MATS Plan" as it became known, was a comprehensive transport plan released in 1968 examining the then-current and future needs of transport for the city of Adelaide.

It recommended the construction of 98 kilometres of freeways, 34 kilometres of expressway, the widening of 386 kilometres of existing arterial roads, as well as new arterial roads, a new bridge over the Port River, 20 rail grade separations and heavy rail improvements including a subway under King William Street.

The estimated cost of land acquisition and construction was $436.5 million in 1968, which equates to approximately $4,580 million in 2010 with inflation.[1] Ultimately none of the plan's recommendations were brought to fruition in their original form, due to political and public opposition, in contrast to the 1969 Melbourne Transportation Plan.

In the time since the MATS plan was abandoned as a single transport package, analogous elements of the plan have been built or considered due to increasing transport pressures within greater Adelaide.

The need for a plan[edit]

Like other states, in South Australia there was a strong movement towards private car travel following the Second World War. Fuel rationing was a thing of the past and private car ownership was increasing.[2] The car was seen as a personal liberator; the benefits it provided people included the independence to live and travel where they pleased, to purchase more affordable property in areas previously too inaccessible, and to conduct their affairs with less exposure to both the limitations and inflexibilities inherent in any public transport system.

Adelaide continued to expand rapidly due to people continuing to choose to live in suburbs as well as population growth and by 1966, Adelaide's population had increased by 90% on post war levels. Experts had been warning of the consequences of unplanned urban sprawl leading to a renewed interest in planning. In 1955 the Town Planning Act was amended to make a requirement for a coordinated plan to guide the future development of Adelaide in the best interest of the community.

The Report of Metropolitan Adelaide was released in 1962 and featured proposals for the construction of freeways, but lacked detail. Experts emphasized the urgent need for road improvement including freeways warning the longer the delay, the more costly and difficult the job would become. In 1964 the state Liberal Premier Thomas Playford announced the commencement of a comprehensive infrastructure planning study for the future of Adelaide's transport needs. This report, titled the Metropolitan Adelaide Transportation Study (MATS) was released in August 1968 together with an announcement that six months would be allowed for public comment before commencement of work.

Recommended freeways[edit]

North-South Freeway[edit]

The North-South Freeway was one of the most important parts of the plan, allowing travel North and South of the linear city of Adelaide. The Report on the Metropolitan Area of Adelaide predicted Adelaide would stretch more than 70 km, from Elizabeth in the north to Sellicks Beach in the south, by the 1980s; an outcome some were keen on preventing.

Travel from Salisbury to Noarlunga would take approximately 30 minutes. The freeway consisted of two sections: the Noarlunga Freeway and the Salisbury Freeway. The Noarlunga freeway would serve the rapidly growing residential, industrial and recreational to the south connecting to major highways to Victor Harbor and Yankalilla.

Starting at Old Noarlunga, it was to follow a path adjacent to Main South Road (this has since been completed and is known as the Southern Expressway), then continuing north on a path roughly parallel to South Road then land near the west parkland with off ramps to the CBD, until joining the North Adelaide Connector. An interchange north of Anzac Highway would connect it to a proposed Glenelg Expressway along an abandoned railway corridor that still remains.

The Salisbury Freeway was the 6-lane continuation of the Noarlunga Freeway starting at the Hindmarsh Interchange then roughly followed the west of the Gawler rail line through Wingfield and north to Edinburgh. The Noarlunga Freeway was to be 8 lanes, cost $34,000,000 in land acquisition, $58,000,000 in construction and carry 93,000 cars on an average weekday by 1986.

Main North Road comparably carries approximately 46,000 cars on an average weekday in 2007.[3] The Mitchell and Kwinana Freeways in Perth forming a North-South Freeway present a good example as to what a North-South Freeway might have been like in Adelaide.

Port Freeway[edit]

This was to be a freeway constructed in the wide median strip of Port Road that had been left in earlier years for a possible canal leading from Port Adelaide to the Adelaide city centre. It was to go from the Hindmarsh Interchange to the Old Port Road intersection. It would feature pedestrian overpasses but was still criticised for blocking communications across Port Road.[4] Following Port Road, Commercial Road was to continue over a new bridge over the Port River connecting to Victoria Road making a continuous arterial road.

Hindmarsh Interchange[edit]

The largest construction project in the plan. The intersection of the Port Freeway, North-South Freeway and North Adelaide Connector would have required a four-level spaghetti interchange with many flyovers that would have almost engulfed the suburb of Hindmarsh. Pictures of similar sized interchanges in Los Angeles were used to good effect by opponents of MATS. There were four different designs proposed including one that was to be sited in the parklands reducing the need for land acquisition.

North Adelaide Connector[edit]

This was to connect the West and Eastern sides of the city starting from the Hindmarsh Interchange and connecting to the Modbury Freeway. It would have encroached upon Parkland and go partway underground to reduce the loss of open space.

Arterial road improvements have since taken place in the area, particularly on roads lining the parklands including Park Terrace, Fitzroy Terrace and Park Road. And overpass on Park Terrace over the Gawler railway line has been constructed but not over the Outer Harbor railway line.

The Hawker Street tram bridge over the Gawler Railway line was demolished in the 1970s due to lack of maintenance and safety concerns. An overpass over the Gawler railway line at Torrens Road has not been constructed as proposed but land set aside remains. A report on the Torrens Road upgrade in 2005 stated grade separation was no longer a priority.[5]

Hills Freeway[edit]

The Mount Osmond Interchange on the South Eastern Freeway

This was proposed to be a connection between the new South Eastern Freeway (then under construction) and the CBD. It would have cut a swathe through College Park, St. Peters, Norwood, Rose Park, Myrtle Bank and Urrbrae before leaving the city at Belair Road. Many of Adelaide's most affluent suburbs would have been broken up. This proved to be the most controversial part of the entire MATS plan. It was dropped from subsequent proposals but served to turn public opinion against the rest of the project.

Foothills Expressway[edit]

A proposed link between the North-South Freeway at Darlington (approximately the point where South Road meets Sturt Road) travelling in a north-east direction to meet up with the Hills Freeway at Belair Road. The expressway was scrapped from subsequent proposals with the Hills Freeway.

Modbury Freeway[edit]

Starting at the North Adelaide Connector, this would have followed the River Torrens along Linear Park (the O-Bahn Busway was later constructed on this corridor instead). At approximately 1 km from the O-Bahn's current terminus, Modbury, it would have then turned further north along what is now McIntyre Road through Golden Grove.

An express bus service along the freeway giving a similar service to the current O-Bahn was proposed. The freeway would have required the relocation of the River Torrens in various sections; though it was stated consideration would be given to maintain the beauty of the river.

Dry Creek Expressway[edit]

Starting at Port Adelaide, this would have been an east-west connector running roughly parallel to and slightly north of Grand Junction Road and terminating at the Modbury Freeway. The section west of Main North Road has been completed since as the Port River Expressway. However it has not been extended eastward.

Attributes Table
Noarlunga Freeway Hindmarsh Interchange North Adelaide Connector Port Freeway Salisbury Freeway Hills Freeway Modbury Freeway
Cost Land Acquisition 34,000,000 16,700,000 5,700,000 100,000 9,800,000 20,000,000 7,400,000
Cost Construction 58,000,000 13,000,000 11,500,000 15,100,000 14,000,000 32,000,000 42,500,000
Cost Total 92,000,000 29,700,000 17,200,000 15,200,000 23,800,000 52,000,000 49,900,000
Estimated Cars Weekday 1986 93,000 N/A 62,000 68,000 62,000 58,500 79,000
Length in Kilometres 34.4 2.6 3.2 3.3 12.7 2.9 21.2
Number of Lanes 8 N/A 6 6 6 6 8

Public transport changes[edit]

There were various changes to public transport proposed. Public transport was said to be important in directing and shaping urban growth which included increasing vitality of the city centre. It would provide support for those in the community who could not drive.

The existing rail system was to be turned into a rapid rail network which would be aimed at providing efficient long distance, high speed suburban transport. Many railway stations were to be rationalised and some would be relocated to link to main roads. Closure of some stations allowed higher running speeds of trains and reduced running and maintenance costs.

Locating stations closer to main roads made them more accessible and visible. Railway stations would be supported by feeder bus services thereby increasing their serviceable range. Competing bus services were to be removed. A distance of 3.2 kilometres between railway stations was said to be optimal, a prediction which compares well to the structure later employed on the similar north-south lines in Perth.

The Noarlunga rail line, which then only went as far as Hallett Cove, was to be extended to Christie Downs. The Glenelg Tram would require additional investment to integrate with the proposed new rapid rail system, and to construct grade separations along existing roads.

However the tram's patronage was lower than competing bus routes along the parallel Anzac Highway, so it was said to be not cost effective to maintain the tram line. It was predicted accurately that overall public transport usage would fall to below 5% by around the year 2000, and proceeding with the recommended changes would maintain the number at 7%.

King William Street Subway[edit]

The most significant proposed public transport project was an underground railway beneath the city to bring the fast, high-capacity potential of railway to the core of the CBD. It was to link the main north-south Gawler and Noarlunga lines with a new arrangement of through-stations; this would have eliminated the limitations in service-frequency inherent in any railway with a central terminus. After skirting underground to the north of the Adelaide railway station, the subway was to proceed under the central King William Street and serve it with three stations, before returning to the surface just south of where Greenhill Road is crossed by the current Glenelg Tram. The envisioned closure of the latter would have allowed its corridor to be used by the new railway instead, until Glandore, although options to accommodate four tracks and both services in this section of corridor could have existed. From Glandore, the new railway would have rejoined the existing Noarlunga Line at Edwardstown via an approximately 1,200m-long new railway corridor running parallel to South Road and about 200m to its west.

Apart from the direct public transport benefits, it was said the subway would also lead to increased land values and encourage development at the southern end of the city. The Toronto Yonge Street Subway was used as an example. Furthermore, the heritage Adelaide railway station and much of Adelaide Yard would have become available for redevelopment.

The subway was estimated to cost $32,000,000. Construction costs were to be reduced by using a cut and cover construction technique. Such a method would not be viable now due to development that has been permitted since, especially the Adelaide Festival Centre built by the Dunstan Labor government.

Reaction and opposition[edit]

MATS became politicised as initial public reaction became a party stance. Many South Australians were cautious about freeways for various reasons; opposition was similar to the Freeway and expressway revolts experienced in the United States. Large-scale property acquisition proved to be one of the most contentious issues, with the very large designs of several freeway interchanges seemingly undertaken without expectations of such an issue. The Noarlunga Freeway alone would have required the acquisition as many as 3,000 properties, including 817 residential dwellings. The Hills Freeway would have required the demolition of significant areas of the historic suburbs of inner south-eastern Adelaide.[6]

The impact of freeways on the urban landscape also proved to be a large source of concern. It was feared freeways would create social issues, with people looking at the urban problems cities such as Los Angeles experienced such as the division of neighbourhoods leading to the creation of urban ghettos, leading to a belief that the same would happen in Adelaide if freeways were constructed. The Report on the Metropolitan Area of Adelaide 1962 contained images of the city of Los Angeles and its extensive freeways to represent a potential model for Adelaide's future transport solutions.

Many believe these problems would not be created by the construction of freeways, and that the comparison of Adelaide with Los Angeles was a misrepresentation.[7] It now seems unlikely that construction of freeways would have led to the urban problems experienced in large cities such as Los Angeles and it is telling that more appropriate comparisons to cities of a similar size to Adelaide such as Calgary, Canada were not used.

Some wanted Adelaide to develop as a more European-type city with high density housing and an even stronger emphasis on public transport than was already being proposed. This was despite many European countries also implementing high-performance road infrastructure around and through their cities to better cater for the myriad of private and commercial travel demands that any city has, and which is in addition to the single-occupant, office-working car-commuter traffic against which public transport is often best placed to compete. The Superintending Engineer of the Highways Department challenged the more extreme positions on public transport, stating that it was planned to be provided to the maximum extent that was economically feasible. He stated there was no shortfall of "instant experts" in the community who saw public transport as a solution to all urban problems, but being too long on imagination and too short on practicality.[8]

Result of MATS[edit]

In 1969 the State Cabinet with Liberal and Country League coalition as government and Steele Hall as premier approved the MATS Plan excluding some proposals which were to be further reviewed including:

  • Closure of the Grange Railway line
  • Foothills Expressway and Hills Freeway
  • Selections of the Modbury, Noarlunga Freeways and Dry Creek Expressway
  • Rerouting railway from Edwardstown to Goodwood


In 1970 a new Labor government under Don Dunstan was elected and shelved MATS, but did not go as far as selling the corridors already acquired in case opinion changed in the future. However, the Adelaide Festival Centre was developed over the optimal portal location for the proposed King William Street subway. Dunstan resisted urban sprawl, but initiated the ill-fated concept of the Monarto satellite city, as well as investigated new technologies in public urban transport.[9] Dunstan attempted to construct a light rail line in the north-east along the Modbury corridor; it later turned out the O-Bahn would be constructed along it instead.

In 1980, the Liberal party won government on a platform of fiscal conservatism and the premier David Tonkin committed his government to selling off the land acquired for the MATS plan ensuring that even if needs or public opinion changed, the construction of most MATS-proposed freeways would be impossible. However debate continued on a North-South Freeway to replace South Road. In 1982, the Minister for Transport Michael Wilson, abandoned the idea of a high speed freeway and instead began widening South Road between Torrens Road and Daws Road as a short term solution, while retaining the key central portion of the North-South Corridor between Dry Creek and Darlington as a concept.[6]

In June 1983, the North-South Corridor, the last surviving element of MATS, was completely abandoned by John Bannon's new Labor government, who claimed that too much land had been sold off to make it practical. The abandonment had a significant impact on the Highways Department as it was the first time in its history that a government had rejected the recommendations of the Commissioner. It undermined the Department's record of independence from party politics. Some of the city's current transport bottlenecks would have been reduced had the originally proposed freeways been constructed.[6]

Post-abandonment assessment[edit]

Attitudes towards MATS in the present day are mixed. The then premier Steele Hall still believed abandoning the plan was a severe mistake and has received mention in The Advertiser about the topic in 2008.[10]

Freight transport and motoring lobbies generally favoured the plan heavily and, periodically, refer to the rejection of the MATS plan as a lost opportunity. Major road lobby groups as of 2007 continue to call for a North-South freeway in particular with the State Government joining calls for funding under the Federal Government's AusLink Program.[11]

Public transport activists tended to reject the plan due to the perceived threat of competition against public transport usage, and the possibility of increased urban sprawl. Ironically, the lack of MATS Plan city subway has perpetuated the suboptimisation of the metropolitan railway at Adelaide railway station, which is distant from the core of the CBD and which is of a terminating configuration that fundamentally limits service frequency. Others believe varying degrees of the plan were too ruthless towards the environment and would have ruined the character of Adelaide. However, some of the issues raised about the construction of freeways can now be seen to have been unlikely to have eventuated; for example, despite a lack of urban freeways, Adelaide has still spread north and south.

MATS since[edit]

Some roads constructed since MATS are reminiscent of the original proposed freeways in MATS due to Adelaide's inherent transport pressures. The Southern Expressway has been constructed partly following the alignment the southern section of the Noarlunga freeway. It remained viable to construct as much land remained undeveloped. The South Eastern Freeway, was completed in 1979 and had partly began construction at the time of MATS. The Port River Expressway was opened in 2005, which partially follows the original Modbury to Port Adelaide ("Dry Creek") Expressway proposed by MATS but does not extend eastwards.

The Rann Labor government stated it believed South Road should be upgraded into a non stop north-south route, only to decline a 2007 $1bn pre-election funding offer from the then Howard Federal Government which would have upgraded substantial sections of the road. Construction of an underpass at the intersection of South Road and Anzac highway began in 2007 and was completed in 2009,[12] however other underpasses proposed for the intersections of Grange Road, Port Road and the Outer Harbor/Grange railway line appeared to be shelved, possibly due to the substantial cost blowouts of the South Road/Anzac Highway underpass. The same fate appeared to befall that government's 2010 proposal for South Rd/Sturt Rd underpass.

Construction of roads has become considerably more expensive than at the time of the MATS proposal. In real terms, costs to construct are higher, as are costs to (re)acquire properties that were originally in the MATS corridors.

See also[edit]




  1. ^ Inflation calculator Reserve Bank of Australia
  2. ^ Radcliff p. 126
  3. ^ Transport SA: Traffic Volumes accessed 21 November 2007
  4. ^ Thomas Wilson, p117
  5. ^ Torrens Road Upgrade Final Report accessed 1 February 2008[dead link]
  6. ^ a b c "Adelaide’s Freeways: A History from MATS to the Port River Expressway". OZROADS. Retrieved 19 October 2009. 
  7. ^ Adelaide Transport 21 November 2007 (discussion on an Internet forum)
  8. ^ MATS and the Future Development of Adelaide (1968), p.22
  9. ^ Eric Franklin, The Advertiser: Labour Will Revise MATS Plan, 6 May 1970
  10. ^ The Advertiser: Adelaide Nations Traffic Basket accessed 22 February 2008
  11. ^ $2 billion super road link accessed 17 July 2007
  12. ^


  • De Leuw. Cather & Company. Rankine & Hill Alan M. Voorhees & Associates, 1968, Metropolitan Adelaide Transport Study 1968, Adelaide
  • Town Planning Committee, 1962, Report on the Metropolitan Area of Adelaide 1962, Adelaide
  • The University of Adelaide Department of Adult Education, the Metropolitan Adelaide Transportation Study and the Future Development of Adelaide, 1968, Adelaide
  • Thomas Wilson, The Relationship Between a Transport Link and Land Use Development between Adelaide and Port Adelaide South Australia, Adelaide
  • J.C. Radcliff. C.J.M. Steele, Adelaide Road Passenger Transport 1836 - 1958, Libraries Board of South Australia, Adelaide, 1974

External links[edit]