Work on the foundations of Sunderland’s new bridge has begun.
The arrival of the Claude Monique – a large barge equipped with two cranes and a range of piling equipment - marks the start of work in the river.
The vessel, measuring 42m x 15m, will provide a platform for the team to work from as a cofferdam - a watertight enclosure in the river - is used to help put in the bridge’s foundations.
The cofferdam will enable the team to work below the waterline as the foundations of the the main central pylon are constructed in the riverbed.
During the coming weeks, the foundations for the central pylon will begin to take shape with metal columns, known as piles, inserted into the riverbed and along the edge of the southern embankment, where bridge supports will be built.
Stephen McCaffrey, Project Director with FVB JV, the partnership set up by Farrans Construction and Victor Buyck Steel Construction to deliver the project, said the arrival of the Claude Monique, which is owned by Farrans, marked a milstone in the project.
He said: "During the past eight months, much of our work has revolved around clearing the site on the south side of the river and preparing the embankments for the foundations to be laid to support the approach roads to the bridge.
"We have now reached a point where the in-river work is starting, and the Claude Monique will help us do that by providing us with a substantial platform to work from.
"She is equipped with a lot of specialist machinery to help us build the cofferdam and get the central pylon foundations underway."
The new bridge will cross the River Wear between Wessington Way in Castletown and European Way in Pallion.
It is the first bridge to be built over the Wear in the city for more than 40 years and is part of the wider strategic transport plan to link the Port of Sunderland and city centre to the A19 and the A1.
City council leader Coun Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland City Council, appealed for people to drive carefully and according to the new lower speed limits, and said the benefits of the bridge would far outweigh the disruption during the coming months. said: "The arrival of the Claude Monique marks the beginning of a new phase of the construction project.
"During the coming months, the new bridge will become more and more evident as the construction programme accelerates and the structure starts to appear in the water. I’m sure people are as excited as I am to see the bridge become a reality.
"There are, however, roadworks taking place on both sides of the river. While we appreciate they may cause delays and some frustration, I would urge everyone to drive very carefully, and to stick to the reduced speed limits for their own safety, and that of the construction team.”
To sign up to receive regular updates on the New Wear Crossing, email firstname.lastname@example.org asking to be put on the distribution list.
For more information, go to www.newwearcrossing.co.uk, or call 0800 223 0379