CONSTRUCTION work on a long-awaited pedestrian bridge is underway, almost eight years after it was first announced.

The footbridge across the East Coast Main Line will connect Darlington College, Teesside University and the new Central Park development to Darlington town centre.

The project, first mooted in 2006, was hit by legal disputes, technical issues and the recession, which resulted in plans for a landmark bridge made of a special polymer to be dropped in favour of a smaller, simpler steel design.

The Northern Echo revealed earlier this year that the overall cost of the project, including the partial manufacture and design of the original bridge and the development of the new design, is expected to reach £2.65m –£700,000 more than expected.

Pedestrian access across the railway line has been made a priority as the existing Haughton Road bridge - which carries cars, cyclists and pedestrians – is a pinch point with narrow footpaths that do not allow people to safely pass each other.

The new bridge is expected to be lifted into position in October, with preparatory work to prepare the ground on both sides of the railway line taking place through the summer.

Darlington Borough Council and Carillion, which are jointly working on the scheme, have pledged to keep disruption for all traffic to a minimum, although cyclist and pedestrian provision could be disrupted at different times as building work progresses.

Haughton Road may need to be closed overnight when the bridge is lifted into place by cranes, with diversions to be arranged.

A council spokeswoman said: “At present the footway across the bridge is a narrow point on the route for pedestrians and cyclists. The new bridge will provide an improved continuous route for both cyclists and pedestrians.

“We will ensure that the impact is kept to an absolute minimum and we will continue to review the cyclist and pedestrian provision as the scheme progresses.”

The council has defended the cost of the bridge, and the lengthy delays, saying that it had inherited the original proposal and design from Tees Valley Regeneration, which was disbanded in 2009 three years after starting the Central Park project.

The authority has described the new bridge as a more ‘appropriate’ design and estimated its part of the final bill to be £1m.