PREPARATION is already underway for the long-awaited construction of the iconic £600 million Mersey Gateway bridge, set to create 500 construction jobs and generate up to 5,000 permanent posts.

Trees and vegetatation are being cleared along the access routes on both sides of the River Mersey.

The search for senior staff to steer the six-lane tolled crossing has attracted top calibre applicants.

Interviews are being held this month to appoint five key positions, a construction director, contracts manager, technical manager, performance manager and review manager.

Once contracts have been signed with Halton Council, the Merseylink consortium will start to build an access road across the salt marsh on the south side of the Mersey.

A temporary jetty will be erected in the river so that coffer dams can be constructed. These temporary watertight enclosures will expose the river bed for work to start on the first pier foundation.

Work to clear land around Astmoor and the Riverside area in Widnes will be completed this week.

Stephen Cardwell, Merseylink project director said: “It is important that we undertake this clearance work now because this means it will be completed ahead of the bird nesting season in the spring and it needs to be complete before the main works can start.

“We’re working closely with Halton Council to schedule all the work throughout the borough to ensure that there is minimal disruption for local residents and commuters.”

Clearance teams will move into the vicinity of Ditton roundabout and the Bridgewater junction and Central Expressway in Runcorn next week.

They will then make their way to the M56 roundabout at Junction 12 and around Halton Lea.

The final two phases will see work carried out at Weston Point and Lodge Lane junctions in Runcorn throughout February.

There will be some hard shoulder and lane closures but these will mostly be in operation during off peak periods.