The final countdown is on for the start of the Tyne Bridge’s four-year restoration.

Long-awaited works to return one of the great symbols of the North East to its former glory will begin in earnest in less than two weeks, starting Tuesday, April 2.

There are hopes that the £41.4 million refurbishment will be completed in time for the rusted bridge’s 100th anniversary in October 2028.The Northern Echo: Scaffolding around the Tyne Bridge ahead of the start of its restoration

But the huge project is also expected to cause severe disruption across Tyneside, as the bridge will be cut down to just one lane of traffic in each direction – restrictions that will be in place 24/7 and last for at least the first two years of the works.

Drivers have been warned that journeys across the Tyne Bridge, which carries 70,000 vehicles every day, could take 30 to 40 minutes longer at rush hour.

Heavy congestion is expected on the Quayside, over the Swing and Redheugh bridges, and on all approaches to the Tyne Bridge from both Newcastle and Gateshead.The Northern Echo: Scaffolding around the Tyne Bridge ahead of the start of its restoration

Council chiefs are urging people to make alternative journey plans where possible – either by travelling outside of peak times, switching to public transport, walking or cycling, or using the A1 or Tyne Tunnel to cross the river if they do not need to be in the city centre.

Speaking on a tour of the bridge’s scaffolding on Thursday morning, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Kemp told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is a four-year, £42 million investment programme into significant infrastructure. It will inevitably have inconvenience for people.

“It is now about listening to the communication messages we are putting out, thinking about alternative routes you can use, looking at avoiding peak times where possible, and understanding that there will be a degree of patience required.”The Northern Echo: Scaffolding around the Tyne Bridge ahead of the start of its restoration

A new park and ride facility is being opened from April 2 at the Metrocentre’s coach and staff car park, while council bosses say they have also upgraded traffic signals to try and keep vehicles moving and prioritise key bus routes.

Coun Kemp added: “We are doing everything we possibly can [to avoid congestion]. It is a significant bottleneck in some ways, being one of the few routes across the river. But this is essential work that is necessary after significant underinvestment from Government for many, many years.”

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon admitted that some drivers will have “no alternative but to stand in the traffic” once the bridge’s capacity is halved, but pleaded with others to play their part in helping avoid gridlock.

He said: “The work has to be done. We are sorry, but there is going to be some inconvenience. But for probably the majority of vehicles there are alternative routes – people can change their time of travel, or if they are going through Newcastle to get somewhere else my advice would be to take the alternative ways around the city and avoid the Tyne Bridge.”

North East politicians and transport officials have been trying for years to secure funding from the Department for Transport to pay for what will be the Tyne Bridge’s first major maintenance in more than 20 years, as well as associated improvements to the Central Motorway.

That protracted saga eventually culminated in ministers finally signing off on an initial £35.2 million grant, though councils are still waiting for confirmation that the Government will cover the full cost of the project after promising to do so as part of Rishi Sunak’s Network North programme.

The complex, four-year revamp of the grade II* listed structure involves far more than a simple repaint.

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There are around 1,000 different repairs needed on the iconic crossing in order to protect its future – including steelwork, concrete, and masonry fixes, waterproofing and bridge joint replacement.

Asked if the bridge would be back to its best in time for its October 2028 centenary celebrations, Coun Kemp said he was “incredibly confident”.

He added: “We will be there for the anniversary and it will be a major celebration of significant restoration work on an iconic infrastructure project that we will celebrate both here on Tyneside and around the world.”