Workers building Sunderland’s New Wear Crossing are preparing to launch the bridge’s 300 metre deck out across the river.
The team is now clearing the way at the base of the huge pylon ready for the bridge deck to pass through to the north abutment.
In recent weeks, the legs of the 100-metre high centrepiece have been secured to the foundations within the riverbed and most of the rigging used to raise it into place has been removed.
Last week, the bottom of each pylon leg was filled with 175 tonnes of concrete, while the bridge deck paintwork was finished.
It is all building up to the next major milestone in the project, when the deck will be slowly pulled out across the river by hydraulic jacks in an operation that is likely to take two days.
Once in place, the deck will span from where it has been assembled on the south side of the river in Pallion to the north side in Castletown, and will require a further 40m section to be constructed over the summer months on the north side in order to complete the full length of the bridge.
Coun Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “During recent weeks and months, we have really seen progress on the site of the New Wear Crossing, with the first section of bridge deck pulled a short way across the river last October and then the arrival and raising of the impressive white centrepiece earlier this year.
“Once the deck is launched across to the north side we will be able to get an indication of what this new bridge is going to look like when finished and the impact it will have on Sunderland.
“It will improve transport links from the A19 to the city centre and the Port of Sunderland, and will enable a huge area of land along the south side of the riverbank to be regenerated and developed.
“There are no doubts in my mind that this bridge will attract investment into Sunderland, help to create thousands of jobs, and improve travel time for motorists and those on public transport.
“It is going to be great news for the city.”
Since construction got underway on the New Wear Crossing in May 2015, much of the work has centred around building the cofferdam and pylon foundations within the riverbed, constructing the approach roads on the south side, and assembling the bridge deck.
Roadworks have also been carried out on both sides of the river to prepare the current road network for the opening of the bridge in the spring of 2018.
However, in recent months, work has stepped up on the north side of the river, where the northern approach road and abutment are being constructed and the new alignment of Hylton Park Road is being developed.
When the New Wear Crossing is open, Hylton Park Road, which runs through Sunderland Enterprise Park, will pass beneath the new road connecting the bridge to Wessington Way so that it connects with Timber Beach Road.
The work is being carried out by Farrans Construction and Victor Buyck Steel Construction, which formed a joint venture to work on the development.
Stephen McCaffrey, project director for FVB Joint Venture, said: “The pylon is now secured and free-standing, but there is still a bit of work to do to remove all of the rigging used in raising the pylon, as well as some of the scaffolding.
“We have been hampered slightly by strong winds during the last week or so, but provided the weather calms down, we should be able to have everything ready for the bridge deck launch fairly soon.
“At 300 metres long and weighing 4,750 tonnes, launching the deck across the river will be a very slow and steady process.”
Mr McCaffrey thanked motorists for their patience during the programme of roadworks on both sides of the river, at Pallion Junction and in and around Wessington Way in Castletown, and said work would be largely complete in both areas around the end of May, although minor works will continue.
He said: “We appreciate that roadworks can be frustrating and can slow you down, but they are necessary for us to complete this project.
“We ask people to bear with us and to drive carefully and according to the speed limits and traffic measures in place.
“They are there to protect our workforce and road-users.”
During the summer months, the final 40 metre of bridge deck will be constructed on the north side of the river and the cable stays will be fitted to the pylon and then attached to the deck.
The cables will be gradually stressed to take the weight of the bridge deck before the temporary supports holding the deck are removed.