This remarkable structure spanning the River Tees might look like two cranes making out, but it is, in fact, a bridge — albeit one of unusual design.
The unique transporter bridge concept was first developed in 1873, and was designed to maximize waterway navigability. Instead of extending an entire roadway over a point of crossing, as typical bridges do, a transporter bridge suspends a small section of movable roadway by cables from the top of the bridge, and transports traffic by shuttling that bit of roadway back and forth, in the manner of a gondola. Thus, the clearance afforded by a transporter bridge is not limited by the height of the roadway.
Despite this novel approach to meeting the increasing demands of inland shipping during the industrial age, transporter bridges remained rare. The first wasn’t built until 1893; no more than two dozen have been built since then; only ten remain standing; and of those ten, only six remain operational. The Tees Transporter Bridge is one of those six.
In response to a 1907 Act of Parliament that called for a new way to cross the industrialized River Tees without affecting river navigation, construction on the bridge began in 1910. Connecting Middlesbrough on the south shore with Port Clarence on the north shore, the Tees Transporter Bridge — referred to colloquially as the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, simply as the Transporter, or affectionately as the Tranny — officially opened on October 17, 1911.
Since its opening, the bridge has not only been the further downstream bridge on the River Tees, but also the best-known landmark in Middlesbrough and an outstanding example of Edwardian engineering. In 1993 it received the highest honor awarded by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and in 2015 it was one of ten iconic British bridges featured in a set of postage stamps issued by the UK Post Office.
The bridge is liable to closure due to high winds, fog, heavy rains, and other severe weather — which, judging from local commentary, are not uncommon conditions in Middlesbrough. An 18-month, £4 million refurbishment project was completed in March 2015. The revamp included the installation of a glass elevator to the upper span of the bridge, and the creation of a visitor center.