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Plans for a second road bridge across the Mersey estuary between Runcorn and Widnes are to be developed by structural engineer Gifford, it was confirmed this week.

Gifford's Chester office will carry out feasibility studies for the 2.5km crossing. It will also undertake site investigations and detailed design on behalf of the Mersey Crossing Group (MCG).

MCG is led by Halton Borough Council and includes all the Merseyside local authorities plus passenger transport executive Mersey Travel and Warrington Borough Council.

The new crossing is designed to relieve the existing, heavily congested Silver Jubilee Bridge which takes the A533 Queensway Road across the estuary and the Manchester Ship Canal.

A 2.5km long multi-span viaduct upstream of the existing bridge is the most likely structural option. This will have to be high enough at its southern end to provide adequate headroom over the ship canal. It has also yet to be decided if the crossing will have an opening section to allow pleasure craft to pass through.

Environmental sensitivities could delay construction by up to 10 years, local sources said this week. Unofficial estimates put the cost of the project at close to £70M at today's prices.

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