THE iconic design of the Mersey Gateway has begun to emerge as the first stay cable connecting the south pylon to the main bridge deck has been installed.

Construction teams hoisted the 52-metre long cable into place on Thursday.

It is one of 146 stay cables that will support Halton's new 1,000-metre long reinforced concrete bridge.

Gareth Stuart, project director of the Merseylink construction joint venture, said: "This marks a momentous occasion. The stay cables will be an iconic feature of this landmark structure making it one of the most recognisable bridges in the UK.

“We're now entering a new, very visual phase of the bridge construction where people will be able to see the stay cables connected to the bridge deck as it emerges across the river week by week."

Form traveller machines are casting the deck segments from each side of the three pylons and once the concrete has reached the required strength the stay cables will be installed along the bridge.

Each stay cable consists of up to 91 individual steel strands that sit inside a stay pipe - an outer casing protecting it from weather-related corrosion.

More than 810 miles of the strands will be used on the colossal project.

Every single strand needs to be installed individually.

Merseylink's design manager George Moir said:

"The first two strands are threaded through the stay pipe then the tower crane lifts the pipe up to the anchor point in the upper pylon where the top ends of the strands are fixed into place.

"The bottom ends of the strands are then attached to the anchor point in the bridge deck and stressed using a hydraulic system. This enables us to get the correct level of tension needed to support that segment of bridge deck.

"We then use a winch system through the stay pipe to winch the remaining strands up one by one.

“Once all of the strands have been installed they sit in parallel inside the stay pipe to form the stay cable."

Altogether the stay cables weigh around 53,500 tonnes, which is heavier than the QE2 ocean liner.

Halton Council leader Cllr Rob Polhill said: "The installation of the first stay cable is a real milestone in the Mersey Gateway construction.

“It's been fascinating to see the works progress so far and we're now set to see incredible scenes as our new bridge pylons are anchored to the deck.”