Wobbled on the Thames? Now tilt on the Tyne

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The Independent Online

Lottery fund bosses who talk about "that flipping bridge" usually mean the infamously wobbly Blade of Light that is under expensive repair by the Thames. But from today they can use those words to describe the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the world's first rotating river crossing.

Lottery fund bosses who talk about "that flipping bridge" usually mean the infamously wobbly Blade of Light that is under expensive repair by the Thames. But from today they can use those words to describe the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the world's first rotating river crossing.

Some have said that when the bridge is raised to allow ships to pass it will seem to "flip over", while others have likened the act to the blinking of the human eye. When the giant eyelid is closed, pedestrians and cyclists will cross from Gateshead Quays to the quayside of Newcastle. When it is open, the graceful arch will reach 165ft above the river.

However you describe it, the men and women who dole out the Lottery Fund will be hoping the £22m, 840-ton bridge is more successful than its disastrous sister project over the Thames at London's Bankside.

The crane Asian Hercules II lifted the bridge at a shipyard in Wallsend yesterday and is expected to haul it six miles upriver this morning, ready to take its place alongside the six other bridges that span the Tyne. Together they make up one of the most impressive architectural sites in Britain, a gargantuan memorial to the Industrial Revolution.

George Gill, leader of Gateshead Council, said: "The sight of this massive crane lowering the bridge into place will be a major feat of engineering. It will be one of those historic occasions for people to tell their grandchildren about. The bridge will instantly become a world famous landmark."

Each opening or closing will take just four minutes. The design is so energy efficient it will cost just 3.6p each time it opens to allow shipping through. During daylight hours the bridge will be coloured white with a hint of blue while at night a lighting system will throw its reflection onto the Tyne.

The council chose the joint design by Gifford and Partners and Chris Wilkinson Architects after a competition. It's expected to become a major tourist attraction. "Each time it opens will be a spectacle," said Mr Gill.

In an attempt to guarantee this Millennium project escapes the mishaps that have plagued so many other schemes, a series of steel piles have been placed on either side of the bridge site to prevent it being hit. Even so, it has been built to withstand a collision from a 4,000-ton ship travelling at four knots. Nor, presumably, will it wobble - unlike its London counterpart.

Last week engineers estimated that it could cost £5m and take another six months to ensure those crossing from Tate Modern to St Paul's Cathedral are not overcome by nausea on the way. Arup Engineering, which designed the bridge together with the architect Lord Foster and sculptor Sir Anthony Caro - the original idea was sketched out on the back of a napkin - said it was confident it would be able to stabilise the bridge by using two types of dampers, which will work as shock absorbers.

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