THE new Mersey Gateway bridge will open to traffic for the first time at midnight.
Leader and Standard photographer Simon Warburton visited the bridge today to see what motorists and local residents have been waiting for.
The six-lane bridge, which links Widnes and Runcorn, will open just after midnight and will be the culmination of more than three-and-a-half years of construction work, with the new bridge being the iconic centrepiece of the huge project. A series of major new junctions now run through Runcorn and Widnes.
The main cable stayed bridge is 1km long and made predominantly of concrete and reinforced steel. The deck of the bridge is roughly 25m above the river bed and is around 2.2km long when you include the north and south approach viaducts.
The bridge contains 810 miles of cables – almost enough to stretch from Lands End to John O’Groats – and has a weight bearing capacity of 53,500 tonnes, which is equivalent to the QE2 cruise ship. Approximately 127,415 m3 of concrete was used in the construction.
Just before the new bridge opens just after midnight, the Silver Jubilee Bridge, which has been open since July 1961, will close for about 12 months for refurbishments. Once it reopens, it will also be tolled.
The new and improved link roads connecting the new bridge to the M56 and the main route towards Liverpool and the M62 will also open at the same time as the new bridge this weekend.
To mark the occasion, there will be a light and fireworks display at 8.30pm today (Friday, October 13).
Organisers are advising people to view it from one of two official viewing areas – Mersey Road (in front of Churchill Hall), Runcorn, and Spike Island (in front of the Catalyst Museum), Widnes.
Halton Borough Council leader Cllr Rob Polhill said: “We hope that the public will come out to enjoy the fireworks and see our magnificent new bridge lit up. I’m tremendously proud of what has been achieved by delivering this iconic new bridge on time and within budget and hope that the night will be a real celebration.”
But the issue of tolls has caused concern with some locals predicting it will cost them £1,000 a year to travel to work or to visit friends and relatives on the other side of the river.
Commenting on Facebook, Craig Burnhill said: “Absolute disgrace. A firework display to celebrate screwing hard working families out of £1,000 a year.”
Nev George added: “Will be the last time I will ever go over to Widnes or Liverpool and will be put out of my work zone.”
As soon as the bridge opens, tolls will be enforced by dedicated cameras on the toll gantry scanning vehicle number plates and special merseyflow stickers.
So far, more than 82,000 vehicles have been registered for discounts on tolls, and people can still register after the new bridge is open, or pay for one-off crossings in advance or by 11.59pm the day after they travel.
Halton residents that are eligible for the local user discount need to pay a £10 annual fee and register with merseyflow to guarantee unlimited personal crossings for a 12-month period.
Residents can register online using www.merseyflow.co.uk
Those not registered with merseyflow who cross the new bridge will have to pay the full toll rate by 11:59pm the day after travel or face a penalty charge notice of up to £60.
The unregistered toll rates are: £2 per trip for cars, £6 per trip for light goods vehicles and £8 per trip for heavy goods vehicles. Motorbikes and local buses are not subject to tolls.
Anthony Alicastro, chief executive officer of Emovis Operations (Mersey) Ltd, said: “I would urge anyone who has yet to sign up with merseyflow to register as soon as possible.
“Our records show that while thousands of eligible Halton residents have signed up for their local user discount, there are still some people who are eligible and live in Halton who have chosen not to.”
“It’s really important that eligible local residents remember that in order to qualify for your unlimited personal journeys across the bridge you will need to register with us and pay a £10 annual administration fee.”
David Parr, Chief Executive of Halton Borough Council and the Mersey Gateway Crossings Board, said: “After a lot of hard work the bridge is nearly ready to open.
“It will provide quicker and easier trips for people travelling through Halton and the wider north west region, getting commuters to work quicker, improving business reliability and allowing families to enjoy the area without facing unpredictable delays.
“Remember, if you live in Halton and are eligible for the local user discount, you must register with merseyflow before you cross the bridge.”