Five main contractors are talking to suppliers with a view to bidding for the £117.6 million New Wear Crossing contract, Construction News understands.
The interested bidders are believed to be Balfour Beatty, Ferrovial, Graham Construction, Skanska and Vinci.
The five firms are in discussions with suppliers before finalising their tenders. Council officials are hoping construction work can get under way within the next 10-12 months.
The Department for Transport announced in December that it would offer £82.56m towards the total cost of the new road crossing over the River Wear.
The announcement was part of £586m in funding to unlock 21 local authority transport schemes worth more than £850m.
Sunderland City Council announced in February it was holding talks with interested contractors for the scheme - originally projected to cost more than £130m until the council cut its request for funding from the DfT by more than £15m.
The project is seen as crucial for the North-east. CN revealed in December that the Civil Engineering Contractors Association had been lobbying MPs to argue the case for the scheme in order to prevent a “catastrophic collapse” in civils work in the region.
Sunderland City Council initially held discussions over how to finance the project and considered both private finance initiative and design, build, finance and operate schemes, before settling on a traditional design and build format.
Bidders will be expected to provide examples of relevant experience of constructing landmark bridge projects and working within sea, river and ecological areas.
They will also need to make socio-economic commitments, for example to employ apprentices and jobseekers.
Ferrovial is the parent company of Amey, which was last month awarded Sheffield City Council’s £2bn PFI highways deal and is building a £52m (€64m) bridge over the Vistula River in northern Poland through its subsidiary Budimex.
Skanska has extensive experience in building bridges, particularly in the US where it was among the contractors to be named on a shortlist for the £3.2bn Tappan Zee Bridge in New York in February.
Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering is among the consortia shortlisted for the £600m Mersey Gateway project, while Vinci has worked on high-profile bridges from France to Brazil and completed the Clackmannanshire Bridge in Scotland.
Graham Construction has in recent years completed schemes including the £14.7m Peace Bridge at Londonderry and the Samuel Beckett Bridge in Dublin at a cost of around £49m.
A public inquiry into the New Wear Crossing adjourned last October after the largest landowner withdrew objections based on the use of compulsory purchase orders.
The inquiry was officially closed on 18 April and the planning inspector has confirmed that his report will be with transport secretary Justine Greening by June.
Ms Greening will consider the inspector’s recommendation before deciding whether to proceed. However, the council has said it is now preparing for the next stage of procurement.
The landmark bridge’s structure comprises a cable-stayed suspended bridge deck supported on two curved tower masts, with a maximum height of 187 m. It will be the tallest bridge in the country when it is completed.
The structure will be 336 m long and is pencilled in for a 2015 completion date.
Councillors on Sunderland’s ruling cabinet have already approved the scheme, which could require up to £2.5m for land expenditure.
Planning permission and major design work for the bridge have been completed.
Project expenditure for 2012, including the procurement process, site and design works, is expected to reach almost £1m with annual maintenance costs of around £250,000 once the bridge is completed.