COUNCIL chiefs have begun the search for the construction firm to build the new Wear bridge.
Sunderland City Council has drawn-up a shortlist of five companies interested in being the main works contractor for the bridge.
Those short-listed could be invited to tender later this year, subject to final permissions being confirmed by the Department for Transport (DfT).
The news comes after ministers agreed in December to offer £82.56million towards funding the major new road crossing over the River Wear between Castletown and Pallion.
Council leader Councillor Paul Watson said: “It was great news just before Christmas when the Government confirmed that it was prepared to put in the funding.
“What this report outlined is the timetable for 2012 and what is happening next as we progress the project – a project that has been widely backed in the city and across the region.
“There is already planning permission, major design work on the bridge and its approach roads has been completed, and work continues on the scheme orders.”
Senior councillors on Sunderland’s ruling cabinet approved the implementation of the bridge scheme at its last meeting.
Up to £2.5million may be needed to buy the land required.
A public inquiry on the bridge, which had adjourned in October 2011 when the largest land owner withdrew objections and then backed the project, is due to resume in April.
An inspector’s report will then be submitted to the DfT before tenders with contractors can begin.
Construction work could begin in the next 12 months, with a target completion date for the end of 2015.
After 2015, annual bridge and highways maintenance costs are estimated at an average of £250,000 per year, though actual figures will vary depending on whether inspections or major maintenance is required.
The council approved planning permission for the bridge and its approach roads in April 2010.
The landmark structure comprises two curving steel towers, the smaller standing up to 140m tall and the larger western one up to 190m – making it the tallest bridge in the country.
City leaders say the bridge will underpin thousands of new jobs, link up key development sites and generate £4 return for every £1 invested.
The council’s bid was supported by regional and city businesses including Nissan, transport groups Arriva, Newcastle International Airport, Barclays and backed by the North Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership, the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority, the Sunderland Partnership, and the University of Sunderland.
For more information on the project, visit www.newsunderlandbridge.com.