Work to lift the stunning centrepiece of Sunderland’s New Wear Crossing into position was all set to begin today.
The operation to begin moving the 100m high central pylon upright was due to begin at about 8am.
It will be the first time anything of this size has been raised in this way since the London Eye was lifted in 1999.
Specialist engineers had been completing the final preparations before the operation gets under way to lift the 1550-tonne pylon – which is equivalent in weight to 125 double decker buses.
Thousands of people were expected to line the banks of the River Wear to watch as the pylon is slowly raised 90 degrees during a challenging procedure, which is expected to take at least 24 hours to complete.
Standing at twice the height of Nelson’s Column and bigger than Big Ben’s clock tower, the pylon will be visible from some considerable distance on both sides of the river.
An exclusion zone will be in place around the site to ensure spectators are kept at a safe distance, and people are being asked to respect both barriers and members of the marshalling team, who will be in place throughout the operation.
Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson said the raising operation would be a sight to behold.
“I think this is the moment we have all been waiting for, when we see this impressive structure raised up over the River Wear during what I believe will be a real engineering spectacle,” he said.
“This new bridge is going to bring great things to Sunderland, and the raising of the pylon symbolises the beginning of that.
“The bridge will enable land along the south banks of the river to be regenerated, it will attract investment into Sunderland, and with that will come new jobs, too.
“The pylon is being raised this week, and so too are our ambitions for this great city.”
The operation began today and is due to finish during daylight tomorrow, to allow the team to carry out important checks and tasks in the natural light.
This means that as the operation will not continue through the night, it may be slowed down to ensure completion occurs at the optimum, preferred time, during the following day.
The pylon is made from 1,000 tonnes of steel and 550 tonnes of concrete and there are several key components being used to raise it into position, which will be visible throughout the operation.
The new bridge will link Castletown to the north of the River Wear with Pallion to the south, and will have dual two-lane carriageways for vehicles, as well as dedicated cycle and pedestrian routes. It will enhance public transport, as well as significantly improve the important transport links to the city centre and Port of Sunderland from the A19 and A1.
It is on track to open in the spring of 2018.