The Mersey Gateway Project is one of the largest infrastructure schemes currently being undertaken in the UK. Scheduled for completion in autumn 2017, the project will provide a new six-lane cable-stayed toll bridge over the River Mersey as well as a 9.2km road network connecting the new bridge to the main motorway network in the North West.
Creating this second crossing across the Mersey has been a long held ambition for many in the local area, particularly Halton Borough Council, and its roots can be traced back well over a decade. Initial approval for the project as given by the Department of Transport in 2006 but it wasn’t until 2013 that a bidder was chosen.
Merseylink consortium was appointed to deliver the scheme and is responsible for the design, build, finance and operation of the bridge over the next 30 years. Construction eventually started in spring 2014 and in the time since a number of milestones have been passed.
Funding for the Mersey Gateway has been achieved via a variety of sources but the bulk of it will come from the payment of tolls. Additional funding will come from government grants and loans.
Once completed, it is hoped that the Mersey Gateway will be beneficial to both the local area and the North West of England as a whole. Starting with contracts awarded as a result of construction on the project, over £40m has been given to local businesses. Longer-term economic benefits include 470 permanent jobs on site during construction and 4,640 permanent new jobs as a result of the operation of the Mersey Gateway regeneration activity and inward investment. Plus £61.9m a year in Gross Value Added from the new jobs by 2030.
The bridge will also have a major impact on transport in the area. The existing Silver Jubilee Bridge could see as much as 80% less traffic freeing it up for use as a local bridge. Those using the new bridge will benefit from less congestion and an increase in journey time reliability with reductions in some journey times of up to ten minutes.
While traditionally motorists on a toll bridge would be held up with the payment process, neither the Mersey Gateway nor the Silver Jubilee Bridge will have toll booths. Both bridges will use an ‘open road tolling’ system where smart technology is used to keep traffic flowing but capture vehicle details and ensure that bridge users pay. The standard charge to cross either bridge will be £2 for a one-way trip in a car or a small van. Halton residents will travel free.
In October of this year the new bridge took a step forward with the completion of both the south and north pylons. The south pylon was completed at the beginning of the month and marked the project’s highest point in the river Mersey estuary standing at 125 metres high. The north pylon is 15 metres smaller and was completed a few days after the south pylon. A third pylon, situated in the centre, stands at 80 metres high.
Having the two outer pylons taller than the central pylon will give Halton’s new bridge a unique look amongst other major bridges in the UK. The latest phase of work will involve installing steel stay cables to connect the three bridge pylons to the main bridge deck.
Central to the project as a whole has been a commitment to ensuring construction has as small an impact on the local area as possible. The Mersey Gateway Environmental Trust was set up in 2010 to promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the area running from the Mersey Gateway Bridge up river as far as Warrington. The hope is the Mersey Gateway Project will be a visionary example of environmental management for future major construction projects.