THREE giant tower cranes that have sat behind each pylon of the new Mersey Gateway are being dismantled and removed as the bridge opening date draws nearer.

Other major pieces of construction machinery – form travellers and wing travellers – will also be taken apart as they complete their work.

Work will also start soon on the removal of the circular cofferdams that surround each of the three pylons, giving people a chance to see how the finished bridge will look.

The largest tower crane on the Runcorn side of the river stands at 146 metres – more than 479 feet – will be stripped down next week.

The north crane near Widnes and the smaller central crane have already been dismantled and removed.

The three pylons now reach 125 metres (south), 110 metres (north) and 80 metres (central) in height.

A team of around 25 highly skilled and trained workers have been responsible for operating the cranes over the past year, working at almost 500 feet above the river bed for up to six hours at a time and in all sorts of weather conditions.

The tower cranes were used for lifting materials and reinforcements for the bridge pylons as well as for constructing and dismantling the temporary scaffolding works that allowed construction workers to access the site.

If there was an emergency on site the cranes could be used to rescue any personnel off the bridge deck.

Now that the deck is complete if such a rescue were to be required it can be achieved by direct access using vehicles and/or mobile cranes located on the deck.

The form travellers were used to build the main bridge deck between the bridge pylons.

The wing travellers followed the Movable Scaffold System to build the outer deck of the approach viaducts that lead across the saltmarsh on both sides of the river and connect the main bridge to the main road network in Widnes and Runcorn.

Hugh O’Connor, general manager of Merseylink, said: “We’ve seen a constantly changing skyline across the river over the past three years and now we’re really starting to get a glimpse of what the finished bridge will look like.

“I have to say we’re very pleased with the work that the whole team has done not just on the new bridge but right across the project from Ditton to the M56.”

Cllr Rob Polhill, Leader of Halton Council, said: “We’re getting close to opening the Mersey Gateway now and you can tell that the skills and experience that the Merseylink team has brought to this project really is world-class.

“The new bridge will be a stunning symbol of Halton and the north west for decades to come and it has been a privilege to watch the team at work.”

The 1,000 metre long six lane crossing is the centerpiece of the Mersey Gateway Project which covers around nine kilometres of road improvements and a series of major new junctions running throughout Runcorn and Widnes.

The new bridge and all the approach roads are on track to open in the autumn of 2017, at which point everyone who wants a discount on tolls across the river will need to have registered with tolling operator merseyflow.

The Silver Jubilee bridge will shut for around 12 months at the same time to undergo a major refurbishment.

Both the new Mersey Gateway and when it re-opens, the Silver Jubilee will be toll bridges.