Council leader Paul Watson took to the controls of an excavator as work got underway on the city’s new £100m bridge.
The clearance of the former site of Grove Cranes, which closed its doors in 1998, heralds the start of the New Wear Crossing project.
The new bridge, scheduled to open in 2018, will cross the river between Wessington Way in Castletown and European Way in Pallion.
The project, part of a wider strategic transport plan, will help to regenerate the area, relieve congestion and attract new jobs and investment to Sunderland.
Demolition specialists will spend the next few weeks dismantling old buildings on the southern side of the river to make way for the new road network that will lead to the bridge
Coun Watson, who represents the Pallion ward, said: “It is so exciting to see one of the region’s biggest civil engineering projects get underway right here in Sunderland.
“The New Wear Crossing will bring enormous economic, social and community benefits, not just to Pallion and Castletown, but to the city and the north east as a whole.
“This is the first bridge to be built over the Wear in the city for over 40 years, so it makes me really proud to be here to meet some of the team who are involved.”
In May, the contract to build the bridge was awarded to FVB JV, set up by Farrans Construction and Victor Buyck Steel Construction, which are bringing together their skills and expertise to deliver the complex project.
David Abdy, Project Director of the New Wear Crossing project for Sunderland City Council, said: “It is wonderful to see work well underway.
“Over the coming months, people will see more and more activity on both the north and south side of the river as sites are cleared and construction gets underway on both the road network and the bridge itself.
“We will keep people informed on the progress as much as possible. This is a significant development for the city and we want everyone to feel a part of the process.”
Stephen McCaffrey, Project Director with FVB JV, said: “We are carrying out essential demolition and site preparation work, primarily on the southern side of the river right now, as we get the site ready for construction to begin.
“These are the first steps in creating the bridge, but they are key as we begin the exciting task of bringing this project to life and regenerating the area.”