AN historic milestone has been reached today as construction work started on the Mersey Gateway.

The iconic £600 million six-lane toll bridge linking Runcorn and Widnes is set to open in autumn, 2017.

It aims to relieve congestion on the existing Silver Jubilee bridge and will create 470 construction jobs and 4,640 permanent jobs.

Halton Council leader, Clr Rob Polhill, said: “It’s great to get things underway. We have a major three and a half-year construction project here that will not only give us a new bridge but will help create jobs and stimulate the regional economy.”

The Merseylink Consortium is starting work by building access roads across the sensitive saltmarsh environments on both sides of the river.

This will enable construction teams to work in the estuary.

Hugh O’Connor, general manager for Merseylink Consortium, said: “Merseylink has spent the past three years working on plans for this project and today is a hugely significant day for us.

“Our focus now is on delivering the bridge and associated road infrastructure. We will be working with all of the interested parties to keep them informed of our proposed works.”

Manchester-based construction firm PP O’Connor is undertaking the construction work on the access road across the saltmarshes, which will take around 16 weeks to complete.

The firm won the contract against competition from across the UK through a competitive tendering process run by Merseylink.

This is the first of a series of construction and other contracts that Merseylink will be appointing in the coming weeks. Accommodation compounds will be set up on both sides of the river in the next few months.

Stephen Cardwell, project director for the Merseylink Construction joint venture, said: “Mersey Gateway is an exciting and challenging construction project. The tidal flows in the estuary, the scale of the new bridge, which is the biggest under development in England at the moment, and the extent of the work we need to do to create new access routes on both sides of the river all make this a really fascinating job.”

Final demolition work will take place around Ditton, Astmoor, Catalyst Trade Park, Victoria Road and Hutchinson Street.

Three pylon cofferdams will be erected in the River Mersey from floating barges.

A temporary trestle bridge built from each side of the river to take vehicles to the pylons.

The road network in Runcorn will be upgraded, starting at the Bridgewater Interchange and M56 roundabout, Steve Nicholson, Interim chief executive of the Mersey Gateway crossings board and the project director leading up to financial close, said: “Local people will see a lot of construction activity taking place in different locations on both sides of the river in the coming weeks and months as work gets underway.”