Work on the centrepiece of Sunderland's new River Wear bridge is almost finished.
The team building the crossing has been working around the clock to construct two tusk-like structures inside the cofferdam in the river, which will support the bridge’s 105 metre-high pylon.
Giant steel moulds have been fixed to the floor of the cofferdam, which is a large, watertight box secured into the riverbed that provides the team with a dry environment to work within. These steel moulds, known as formwork, create the shape of the tusks.
Engineers have installed 75 tonnes of reinforcing steel into each of the moulds and are filling them with approximately 300 cubic meters of concrete - about 37 lorry loads from Tarmac in Sunderland - which will form the base of each leg of the pylon.
Once complete later this month, the moulds will be removed and the tusks will stand at more than eight metres tall, protruding well over the top of the cofferdam wall.
The New Wear Crossing is on track to open in Spring 2018, connecting Castletown to the north of the river with Pallion to the south.
It will create 2.8km of new road and will open up land along the River Wear for regeneration and development, as well as help to create up to 6,000 new jobs and improve journey time around the city.
Stephen McCaffrey is project director of FVB joint venture, formed by Farrans Construction and Victor Buyck Steel Construction to deliver the project on behalf of Sunderland City Council.
He said: “The project is moving along at a pace and very soon people will be able to see the base of the pylon very clearly in the river.
“A lot of work has been concentrated around the cofferdam during the past few weeks as we have constructed the tusks in the river in readiness for the arrival of the main A-frame pylon next year.
“The tusks themselves are very complex, consisting of a lot of reinforcing steel, concrete and other elements to ensure we have the highest level of strength and support required to hold the pylon, and then ultimately take the weight of the cable-stayed bridge.”
Mr McCaffrey said work was also continuing on the south embankment to assemble the second section of bridge deck, with teams working within welding tents along the length of the deck to fix the huge steel sections together.
Once the deck is complete, it will be launched out across the river in the spring of next year.
Work started on the bridge in May last year. So far, 579 accident-free days have been worked on site.
Councillor Paul Watson, leader of the council. said there were many milestones just around the corner for the new bridge.
“It’s wonderful to see Sunderland’s new bridge developing before us every week, with so much progress made in just the last few weeks on both the bridge deck and the tusks for the pylon,” he said.
“This bridge is going to be the catalyst for investment and regeneration in Sunderland, creating jobs, raising confidence and reducing congestion in the city in the years to come.
“Progress during the next six months will be very visible, so I hope the people of Sunderland are as excited as I am to see our new crossing take shape across the river.”