A HUGE barge spanning close to 50 metres in length has entered the Clarence River in anticipation of construction of the new Grafton bridge.
According to a Roads and Maritime Services spokesman, the barge Maeve Anne, made a four- day trip from Sydney ahead of an extensive project specific fit out at Harwood Marine.
It was scheduled to cross the Yamba bar on Monday, but strong swells prevented it happening until Tuesday.
"The arrival of the 48 metre barge is a significant step in preparing for work to build the $240 million NSW Government-funded bridge" the spokesman said.
"The barge will spend about a fortnight at Harwood Marine where it will be fitted with equipment required specifically for the project, before travelling to Grafton."
Travelling on the barge is a 250 tonne crane which will be used to transfer materials, equipment and workers from the temporary jetty on the south side of the Clarence River to the barge itself.
"The barge will be needed for around 12 months... for piling, work to build bridge supports, installing bridge segments and the movement of staff to and from the river bank," the spokesman said.
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The development comes as about 50 attendees of a Grafton Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at the Clocktower Hotel were updated on the progress of the bridge project.
Roads and Maritime Services senior project manager Greg Nash said the next major milestone for the project was not far away, with the finer details of design close to being finished.
Levee work along the river edges is 80% complete, with about 800m left to build over a 5km stretch.
Attendees were also told to expect visible changes on the south bank of the river in coming weeks, with work starting on a temporary jetty and the establishment of a pre-cast yard where bridge segments will be fabricated.
Weather permitting, piling work in the river is expected to start late next month.
According to Fulton Hogan, the project is on track to have the first pre-cast bridge segments in place by the end of the year.
"Our heart and soul is in trying to get some segments up this year," project director Mark Stephenson said.
The bridge is expected to open to traffic in 2019.
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