A MAJOR milestone has been achieved in the upgrade of a key trans-Pennine route connecting Newcastle and Carlisle.

Highways England say ‘excellent progress’ is being made on the A69 Bridge End roundabout, Hexham, where engineers are building two bridges.

Drivers and residents have now been given their first glimpse of the bridge decks which will form the new circulatory part of the roundabout over the new A69 carriageway after they were lifted into their final position ahead of this summer’s opening.

Construction of the east and west bridge walls was finished before the bridge decks were lifted into place.

The eastern retaining wall, which supports soil and earth next to the structure, was completed last month.

The next few months will focus on street lighting, signs, kerbs, road surfacing, new fencing, barriers on slip roads, the roundabout and the A69 itself.

Highways England project manager Alek James said: “I’m very pleased that we’ve successfully jacked the bridge decks into place and it’s nice for people to get a proper look at the fruits of our labour.

“I’d also like to reiterate how proud I am of the team for the work they’ve done throughout the Covid-19 crisis and difficult weather conditions.

“By completing this landmark stage of the scheme, we have moved a significant step closer to the moment everyone is waiting for - which is opening to traffic this summer.”

From Monday, May 17, the eastbound carriageway of the A69 will be closed at Hexham for seven nights to enable resurfacing work on the Bridge End roundabout. Traffic will be diverted along the A6079 to Low Brunton, the B6318 Military Road and the A68 to rejoin the A69 at Stagshaw.

Since work got underway last year, more than 200,000 tonnes of earth has been removed to create the excavation 11 metres below the old roundabout where the new A69 will run.

The team has achieved over 140,000 safe working hours and provided continuous employment since the start of the pandemic, with no staff furloughed and strict measures in place to protect their health.

About 80 per cent of the workforce are from the North-East, half of which are from north of Tyne, and Highways England has also supported the region by using local suppliers and firms.

After this summer’s opening to traffic, landscaping and planting (including some wildflowers native to the area) will be carried out, with all traffic management removed by the autumn.