AN iconic bridge linking Runcorn and Widnes will open in 2016, generating up to 5,000 jobs and stimulate immense investment and regeneration, the Government has confirmed.

The £600 million Mersey Gateway will be the biggest feat of engineering in the country, employing more than 500 construction workers.

It is such a complex and specialised project, it will cost the world’s top civil engineers up to £10 million simply to compete to build the six lane tolled crossing.

The entire project will soar to mmore than £2 billion as the winning consortia will have to look after and maintain the bridge for 30 years and operate the toll system.

Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond announced the final jigsaw in the colossal scheme on Monday, securing £470 million to the lifetime of the project.

This is made up of £86 million towards land acquisition and set up costs and up to £14.55 milliion per year in revenue support for 26.5 years.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, said:” The Mersey Gateway bridge is an important transport project which will improve journeys and boost economic growth.

“It will not only provide much needed traffic relief for the existing Silver Jubilee Bridge, but also help to regenerate Halton, the Liverpool city region and the wider north west by improving transport links, maximising local development and regional economic growth opportunities.”

Halton Council leader, Clr Rob Polhill, said: “This is great news and clears the way for us to launch our competition for the delivery of the new crossing.

“We have been working hard on this project for two decades.

“We didn’t want a tolled crossing but the Government told us early on it was tolls or no bridge.

“We have made a pledge to local residents that they will receive a discount and we will keep to this.

“We’ve got to have a new crossing because the existing bridge is 50 years old and desperately needs major maintenance.

“The metal stays holding it up need replacing. If one goes it will compromise the strength of the bridge. They all need replacing in the future.”

Steve Nicholson, project director, said: “Only six organisations in the world are capable of delivering this complex project.

“We have already received a very hopeful level of interest and hope to attract three to take part in a competition.

“The winning bid will cost an estimated £10m.

“It will be extremely challenging. We hope to appoint the major contractor in 18 months.

“They will bring their own specialist experts but they will look to local businesses for support.

“We have a very long list of local supploiers and will be holding workshops in November to let them know how they can position themselves to secure contracts.”

He said Mersey Gateway already owns 60 per cent of the land needed and will now acquire the remainder.

David Parr, Halton Council chief executive, said: “This is the largest engineering project any local authority has ever tackled.

“It is a great testimony to our policitians to have taken this brave decision.

“We are doing something world leading.

“Halton people can benefit through the jobs being created.

“We will be ensuring with contracts that there are business opportunities for Halton businesses and suppliers.”

Apprenticeships and training opportunties are being developed, he said, to ensure that local people will be equipped with construction skills.

Savings in excess of £20m have been made, he said, by replacing toll plazas with number plate recognition technology.

A further £10m will be cut through competitive procurement.

Mr Parr, added: “We will keep the iconic design of the bridge but we will be challenging engineers to come up with different ideas and designs.

“People of Halton should be proud that we are doing something world leading.”