With the technological boom of the last century came a huge increase in construction capability, and rivers, seas or valleys which were once thought to be completely uncrossable were finally overcome by the advent of numerous new, spectacular bridges. So in honour of these incredible engineering achievements, we have selected our favourite few bridges from around the world. We have the very old, the very new, the very-nearly-finished, the very long and of course the ones which just look very, very cool. Take your pick!
Millau Bridge, Tarn Valley
Millau Bridge: Towering 1,125ft above the Tarn Valley in southern France, driving along the Millau Bridge, the largest cable-stayed vehicular bridge in the world, is said to feel like flying. This Foster + Partners marvel is slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower, took three years to build and opened to the public in 2004. While it may provide picturesque views of the valley below, once the mist descends it is not a route for the faint hearted! The Millau Bridge has a total length of 8,071ft with the longest single span at 1,122ft and a maximum clearance below of 886ft; in short the bridge is massively impressive both on paper and in real life. The deck is lofted on 7 pylons and weighs 36,000 tonnes. A series of 7 masts, each 292ft tall and weighing 700 tonnes, are attached to the corresponding pylons.
Fehmarn Belt Bridge, Baltic Sea
Fehmarn Belt Bridge: When completed in 2018 the Fehmarn Belt Bridge will stretch 11.8 miles and connect the German island of Fehmarn with the Danish island of Lolland at an estimated cost of $2.2 billion. Initial plans show the bridge will be constructed with 3 cable-stayed spans each approximately 2,375ft long and supported by four 918ft tall pillars giving 213ft of vertical clearance beneath. The proposed bridge has been controversial with opposition from businesses and conservationists who fear it may damage local wildlife.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge, Gateshead
Gateshead Millennium Bridge: The award winning $44 million Gateshead Millennium Bridge is the first and only tilting bridge in the world. Hydraulic rams at each end of the bridge allow it to tilt so small ships may pass through, and it is this innovative technology which won its designers the prestigious Stirling Prize for architecture in 2002. Thanks to the 19,000 tonnes of concrete poured into 98ft deep foundations and enough steel to build 64 double decker buses, the bridge can withstand a collision with a 4,000 tonne ship moving at 4 knots.
Bering Straits Bridge, Bering Straits
Bering Straits Bridge: The proposed Bering Straits bridge will hopefully act as a transcontinental link by land, connecting Asia, Africa and Europe with North and South America. Possible locations for the bridge have been suggested, with Cape Dezhnev, Chukotka, and Cape Prince of Wales, Alaska looking the most likely sources. Some suggestions have called for a series of three bridges spanning over 50 miles in total, although the tough Arctic conditions which make the area so notorious will almost definitely hinder construction and maintenance.
Erasmusbrug: Nicknamed ‘The Swan’ due to the shape of the pylon supporting it, the Erasmusbrug was completed in 1996 and acts as a link between the north and south of the city of Rotterdam. To allow ships to pass, the southern span boasts a 292ft long bascule bridge, the largest and heaviest if its kind in Europe. Popular for its aesthetic appeal, the bridge featured in the 2005 film ‘Who Am I?’ in which Red Bull Air Race planes flew underneath! Construction of the 2,650ft long, 6,800 tonne Erasmusbrug cost $110 million and was completed in 1996. Soon after opening to road traffic it was discovered that the bridge would sway under high wind and had to be retrofitted with dampeners.
Kintaikyo: Possibly one of the most unlucky bridges in the world, Kintaikyo was reconstructed in the town of Iwakuni in 1673 after every other attempt to cross the Nishiki River via bridge had been foiled by seasonal flooding. Remarkably, the five wooden arches remained intact right up to 1950 when a typhoon finally destroyed them. However, intent on not being beaten, the bridge was again reconstructed three years later and is still crossable today!
Ponte Vecchio, Florence
Ponte Vecchio: The Ponte Vecchio in Florence is one of the most famous tourist spots in Italy, and is thought to be the oldest wholly-stone built, segmental arch bridge in Europe, although there are many partial segments which date further back. It was originally built of wood until destroyed by floods in 1333, and twelve years later it was rebuilt using stone. Famous for its lining of shops, the bridge has housed everybody from Medieval merchants and butchers to souvenir stalls and art dealers.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge: Completed in 1937 as the then longest suspension bridge in the world at a total length of 8,921ft, the Golden Gate Bridge is perhaps the most famous bridge in the world. Situated in San Francisco, the bridge was an enormous construction achievement at the time. It broke safety records as ‘only’ eleven construction workers were killed during construction, 19 others saved by the innovative safety net placed beneath. Photographed by thousands of tourists each year, the distinctive red paint coat is actually officially ‘international orange’, and was originally chosen to enhance visibility during the foggy conditions that are synonymous with the Bay area. The Golden Gate Bridge was brought in $1.3 million under budget at a cost of $27 million, carries 100,000 vehicles on an average day and requires 38 full-time painters for maintenance. 26 people are known to have survived the 4 second, 220ft fall at 75 mph into the strait below.
Tower Bridge, London
Tower Bridge: Completed in 1894 and designed by Horace Jones and Wolfe Barry, Tower Bridge (so named after the two, striking, 141ft high towers) is one of the most famous landmarks in London. The 800ft long bridge has a 28ft clearance when closed but raises in the centre to a maximum clearance of 140ft that allows ships to pass down the Thames. Back in the days when goods were moved by sea instead of air the bridge was raised around 50 times daily. Tower Bridge took 432 workers 8 years to build. During that time they sank 70,000 tonnes of concrete into 2 huge piers, lowered 2 counterbalanced bascules into place each weighing 1,000 tonnes and then clad the whole bridge in Portland stone and Cornish granite to disguise the 11,000 tonnes of steel beneath.
Oresund Bridge, Oresund Strait
Oresund Bridge [PDF]: At over 25,000ft long in total and 669ft tall the cable-stayed Oresund was opened in 2000 to connect Denmark and Sweden. The entire bridge weighs in at 82,000 tonnes, has one of the longest cable-stayed spans in the world at 1,608ft and carries 60,000 travellers by car, bus and train per day. Driving from Denmark you first pass through the man made island of Peberholm, disappearing into 13,287ft of undersea tunnel which takes you onto the Oresund Bridge proper before completing the journey into Sweden. Crossing the Oresund Bridge doesn’t come cheap (~$53, single, car) even though there are steep discounts for frequent travellers, which isn’t surprising considering it cost $3.8 billion.
Tsing Ma Bridge, Hong Kong
Tsing Ma Bridge: The gravity-anchored Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong is the 6th largest suspension bridge in the world, and carries more rail traffic than any other bridge on earth. Construction of the Tsing Ma Bridge cost $900 million and opened in 1997 after 5 years of constant work. It has a main span of 4,518ft and is named after the two islands it connects - Tsing Yi and Ma Wan. Interestingly, 49,000 tonnes of structural steel were used in the construction of the deck while each 675 foot tall tower used 65,000 tonnes of concrete. The bridge has become a tourist attraction and is renowned for looking particularly spectacular when lit up at night. You can check it out on their live webcam.
Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney
Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney: Having celebrated its 75th birthday in 2007, the Sydney Harbour Bridge remains the widest long-span bridge in the world at a total length of 3,770ft, carrying rail, pedestrian and vehicular traffic across the harbour. Nicknamed ‘the coat hanger’ due to its arched shape, the bridge is often photographed with the nearby opera house, the pair acting as one of the most iconic images for the city and Australia itself. The longest span measures 1,650ft with the highest point on the arch 429ft above sea level. 800 homes in the area had to be demolished to make way for the bridge, which took 1,400 workers 8 years to build at a cost of about $12 million. Surprisingly (because it wasn’t massively expensive), the bridge was finally paid off in 1998!
Hong Kong - Zhuhai - Macao Bridge, SE Asia
Hong Kong - Zhuhai - Macao Bridge: The Hong Kong - Zhuhai - Macao Bridge is still at proposal stage, but if it does get a green light the 18 mile dual 3-lane carriageway bridge will reduce road travel times between Hong Kong and Macau from 4.5 hours currently to 40 minutes. It will include the construction of 2 man-made islands connected by an undersea tunnel to facilitate the safe passage of shipping.
Bosphorus Bridge, Istanbul
Bosphorus Bridge: Although it may not be the longest or largest bridge in the world, the Bosphorus Bridge in Turkey is renowned because it separates two continents, namely Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus Bridge was completed in 1973 with a main span of 3,523ft and clearance of 210ft. In 2005, American tennis star Venus Williams played a five-minute tennis match on the bridge with Turkish player Ipek Senoglu, the first tennis match ever to be played across two continents.
San Diego-Coronado Bridge, San Diego
San Diego-Coronado Bridge: Construction of the vehicle-only San Diego-Coronado Bridge finished in 1969 at a cost of $47.6 million, featuring a 90 degree curve during it’s 11,288ft length. It was built at a maximum height of 200ft to allow vessels to travel underneath; in fact it is tall enough to allow an empty aircraft carrier to pass. It has the unfortunate title of the third most popular suicide bridge in the USA with more than 200 recorded suicides between 1972 and 2000, behind the Golden Gate in San Francisco and the Aurora bridge in Seattle. It costs
$1 nothing to use the bridge, which raised $8 million in revenue per annum when the (now defunct) toll booths were in operation. Oddly enough, a man who survived the 200 foot drop into San Diego Bay after he jumped holding a captured Belgian Malinois police dog (that was presumably chasing him) is now being held in lieu of $1 million bail and pleading not guilty to harming the animal!
Akashi-Kaikyo: The Akashi-Kaikyo bridge in Japan is the daddy of all suspension bridges, over 1,200ft longer than the 2nd place Great Belt Bridge in Denmark. Originally built to replace the dangerous Kobe-Iwaya ferry in 1998 which had suffered at the hands of numerous storms, the bridge crosses the Akashi Strait and cost around $4.5 billion to build. The statistics on this build are staggering; it took 2 million workers 10 years to build the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. During that time they poured 1.4 million cubic meters of concrete, assembled 181,000 of structural steel, built 350,000 tonne anchor blocks at either end of the bridge and hooked up enough steel cable to circle the world 7 times!
Hangzhou Bay Bridge, Zhejiang
The Hangzhou Bay Bridge: When opened in 2007 at 22.4 miles long, the Hangzhou Bay Bridge linked the provinces of Shanghai and Ningbo is the second longest bridge in the world and has a $1.4 billion price label to match. The bridge won’t be open to the public until late 2008 and was the centre of huge controversy with many locals questioning the need to build a bridge of this type, as well as whether it was simply being constructed to rival the Lupu, a competing bridge in Shanghai. There are 2 main spans in the bridge, a 1,470 foot long northern span and a shorter 1,040 southern span. When it comes to length the Hangzhou Bay Bridge is second only to Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in Louisiana.
Magdeburg Water Bridge, Magdeburg
Magdeburg Water Bridge: One of the most distinctively designed bridge on the list, the Magdeburg Water Bridge is exactly what its name suggests; a bridge made over water. It was built to connect the Elbe-Havel Canal and the Mittellandkanal, allowing cargo to travel between Berlin and the ports along the River Rhine without a tedious 7.5 mile detour. It does in fact actually cross the River Elbe! It took 6 years, $733 million, 68,000 cubic meters of concrete and 24,000 tonnes of structural steel to construct the 3,010ft long bridge.