Nicoll Highway

Nicoll Highway stretches westward from Mountbatten Road across the mouth of Kallang River over Merdeka Bridge down to the city centre, where it joins Connaught Drive and Stamford Road.1 It was built in the 1950s to alleviate frequent traffic jams on the often congested Geylang and Kallang roads during peak hours. In the mid-1950s, this highway with a bridge-link was an important new artery from the city area to the eastern side of Singapore.2 The 759-metre-long highway was named after former Governor John Fearns Nicoll (1952–55).3 On 17 August 1956, Nicoll Highway and its linking Merdeka Bridge were declared open by then Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock.4

In the early 1950s, increased traffic flow on Geylang Road, from the densely populated eastern suburbs to the city area and vice versa, created much traffic congestion during peak hours.5 A traffic census in mid-1953 showed a peak flow of 2,500 vehicles per hour past Kallang Gasworks. To ease the traffic bottleneck, a government committee recommended building a highway along the coast, running almost parallel to the old Geylang Road/Kallang Road link.6 The highway was to be built through the runway grounds of the old Kallang Airport, with a bridge-link over Kallang Basin and a continued stretch leading to town on the Beach Road coastal reclamation.7

The whole of Nicoll Highway sits on land reclaimed in stages since the 1920s. For this project, the Kallang Basin section was reclaimed in the mid-1950s.8

Piling works for the highway began in 1954.9 The eastern approach starts at Mountbatten Road and originally ended on Stamford Bridge across Stamford Canal, where Stamford Road meets with Connaught Drive.10 As a result of the construction, the stretch of Beach Road between Stamford Road and Bras Basah Road became a one-way section.11

In 1965, Nicoll Highway was widened from four to seven lanes at an estimated cost of $550,000. The introduction of reversible lanes helped to ease traffic when the flow was distinctly heavy in one direction.12

In August 1992, the flexi-lanes were converted into a permanent dual carriageway of three lanes on each side from Guillemard Road to Bras Basah Road. According to the Public Works Department, the reversible lanes were no longer necessary due to better traffic distribution throughout the day. The bridge structure was subsequently strengthened to enable it to withstand heavier loads, and upgraded to include wider pedestrian walkways on both sides.13

To allow even smoother traffic flow, Nicoll Highway was extended with the construction of the Esplanade Bridge over the mouth of the Singapore River, till it meets Collyer Quay at the Fullerton Road junction. The Esplanade Bridge was opened in 1997.14

Nicoll Highway collapse

On 20 April 2004 at about 3.30 pm, part of the temporary retaining wall of the Mass Rapid Transit system’s Circle Line at Nicoll Highway collapsed. It caused a cave-in and brought the surrounding area and the highway down into it, forming a 30-metre-deep ravine.15 The tragedy left four men dead.16

Nicoll Highway was reopened to traffic on 4 December 2004.17

Recent developments

In April 2017, a new two-lane vehicular underpass was opened at the junction of Nicoll Highway and Sims Way. The direct connection from Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway (KPE) and Sims Way to Nicoll Highway or Stadium Drive helps to alleviate congestion at the KPE exit and Sims Way when connecting to Nicoll Highway.18


Vernon Cornelius-Takahama & Heirwin Md Nasir

1. Victor R Savage and Brenda S. A. Yeoh, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013), 271. (Call no. RSING 915.9570014 SAV-[TRA]); Ray K. Tyers, Ray Tyers’ Singapore: Then & Now (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1993), 201. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])
2. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 271.
3. Serene Goh, “On a Trip Down Highway’s Memory Lane,” Straits Times, 26 April 2004, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Savage and Yeoh, Singapore Street Names, 271; Public Works Department, Singapore, Annual Report (Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., 1956), 20. (Call no. RCLOS 354.59570086 SIN-[RFL]); Merdeka Bridge and Nicoll Highway: Opening Ceremony by the Chief Minister, the Honourable Mr. Lim Yew Hock on August 17, 1956  (Singapore: Govt. Print. Off., 1956). (Call no. RCLOS 624 MER-[RFL])
5. “Roads to Ease Crush,” Singapore Standard, 18 June 1952, 3; “City Aims to Make a Road Wider,” Singapore Standard, 12 May 1953, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Merdeka Bridge and Nicoll Highway, 3, 10; “A Bridge of Size,” Straits Times, 14 January 1955, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
7. Merdeka Bridge and Nicoll Highway, 3, 4, 6, 10, 34, 41.
8. Seren Goh, “On a Trip down Highway’s Memory Lane,” Straits Times, 26 April 2004, 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Goh, “Trip down Highway’s Memory Lane.” 
10. “Council’s $11,000,000 Plan Will Ease Bottleneck,” Straits Times, 11 July 1953, 7; “Here It Is – Singapore’s Merdeka Bridge,” Straits Times, 1 July 1956, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Merdeka Bridge Opens in 2 Weeks’ Time,” Straits Times, 5 August 1956, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
12. “Nicoll Highway Being Widened,” Straits Times, 14 July 1965, 9; “Flexi-Lanes on Nicoll Highway to Go,” Straits Times, 28 April 1992, 19. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Flexi-Lanes on Nicoll Highway to Go.”
14. “Bridge to Smoother Traffic,” New Paper, 31 July 1997, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Amanda Phoon, “10 Years Ago,” Straits Times, 22 April 2014, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Nicoll Highway Opens after $3M in Repairs,” Straits Times, 5 December 2004, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Nicoll Highway Opens after $3M in Repairs.”
18. Land Transport Authority of Singapore, “New Vehicular Underpass from Sims Way to Nicoll Highway to Open on 2 April 2017,” press release, 14 March 2017.

The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Express highways--Singapore
1965-1970 Nation building