ONE of the North-East's busiest roads was officially reopened on Wednesday after 20 months of highly complex work finally came to an end.

The replacement of the Surtees Bridge on the A66 in Stockton, which carries traffic over the River Tees, has been hailed a major success after not a single letter of complaint was received from members of the public throughout the project.

Despite the four carriageways being totally replaced with six lanes, and 55,000 vehicles using the road each day, the road remained open throughout the lengthy project.

During 385,000 man-hours on the job, there was not one accident or safety issue, leading to contractor Edmund Nutall receiving a gold award from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

John Bagley, divisional director of major projects for the Highways Agency, unveiled the new-look bridge and said he was extremely proud.

He said the road had only been kept open due to the use of the country's largest crane, which was used to lift out sections of the old bridge overnight, before replacing them with new sections.

"The crane is in use all over the country, but is rarely used for this type of job because it does require specific project management skills," he said.

"We had it here on eight occasions. It took three days to assemble each time and it had to be brought here on 40 trucks. It was a huge task."

But Mr Bagley said he was pleased with the outcome of the project, which aimed to replace the deteriorating bridge, ease congestion, provide slip roads to the new Stockton Link Road, and provide pedestrian and cyclist crossings.

"Traffic delays and disruption have been kept to an absolute minimum," he added. "And I believe there was not one single letter of complaint, which I think is unique on a job of this scale."

David Belsham, director of Edmund Nuttall, said, at its peak, up to 80 people were working on the site at any one time.

"This has been one of the most complex jobs we have done," he said.

"The geology around here is very complex, so the foundations were particularly difficult, and working alongside moving traffic and Network Rail posed some difficulties. There were real constraints, but that is perfectly reasonable and understandable.

"And we had to keep the environmentalists happy with no pollution or oil spills.

"It's something when you have 55,000 vehicles a day going past you, and having no letters of complaint was astonishing. I'm very pleased with that."

The Institution of Civil Engineers in the North-East hailed the new bridge as a major success and said lessons could be learned from the approach taken.

The chairman of the institution's municipal experts panel, Mike Robinson, who is also head of technical services at Stockton Council, said to enable two lanes of traffic to remain open on both sides of the road at all times was not easy.

"Great care was taken to ensure that disruption to traffic flow was kept to an absolute minimum and they did an incredible job, with diversions only being used on some nights and some speed restrictions to make travel safe on the A66," he said.

"The potential for chaos and gridlock in the area was huge, but it simply didn't happen.

"There are significant lessons which can be learned for other, future roadworks."