The centrepiece of Sunderland's stunning new bridge is ready to go.
Preparations are under way for the massive A-frame pylon to begin its journey across the North Sea to Sunderland.
During a major operation this week, the 100metre steel structure was transferred from two canal barges onto a single large, sea-going barge, named Louis, ready for its move to Wearside in the new year.
In the coming days, the pylon, which is constructed from 1,000 tonnes of steel and 550 tonnes of concrete, will be fastened down and prepared for its trip, which is expected to take about two days.
Sunderland City Council leader Coun Paul Watson said: "We are getting very close now to the pylon arriving into Sunderland. It’s an impressive structure – striking in both size and appearance – and I think the people of Sunderland are going to be wowed by it.
"We are more than half way through the construction of the New Wear Crossing project and the arrival of the pylon will signal a new phase. In the coming weeks, we will see the pylon travel up the River Wear to the site in Pallion, and will then see it raised vertically into position, which will be quite something to watch.
"I believe this bridge will inject new life into Sunderland, through investment, job creation and regeneration, so it’s wonderful to see it progressing well and entering this exciting time."
The bridge is being built on behalf of Sunderland City Council by Farrans Construction and Victor Buyck Steel Construction, known as FVB Joint Venture.
In recent weeks, the team in Sunderland has been working around the clock to prepare for the arrival of the pylon, which has involved the construction of two tusk-like structures inside the cofferdam in the river, which will support the pylon.
The tusks are now complete and are fixed to the bridge foundations inside the cofferdam, which is a large, watertight box secured into the riverbed that provides the team with a dry environment to work within.
Each tusk is made with 38 tonnes of reinforcing steel and 150 cubic meters of concrete and will form the base of each leg of the pylon. They stand at more than eight metres tall and rise above the cofferdam wall.
The pylon’s departure from the Port of Ghent in Belgium is being overseen by Sarens, a world leader in heavy lifting and engineered transport,.
Stephen McCaffrey, Project Director for FVB, said he was pleased with progress: "We are working closely with Sarens and the port authorities both in Belgium and Sunderland to ensure the pylon is well prepared for its journey to the North East and has a smooth transition to Sunderland and then on to the site.
"We have been working on the pylon for more than a year. It’s a huge structure, which meant, following fabrication, assembly needed to be completed in the open air, so you can appreciate the planning and expertise that has gone into lifting and transporting it.
"We are really excited to see it arrive into Sunderland. I hope people come out to watch. I think they will be impressed."
Exactly when the pylon sets off will be dependent upon weather and sea conditions.Details of its expected arrival time will be released once Louis has begun its journey and people will then have the opportunity to welcome it on its arrival into the Port of Sunderland.