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June 17, 2017

You don’t have to be an engineer to appreciate the world’s most radical bridges

by John_A

You likely use them every day, but have you ever stopped to consider the engineering marvel that is the bridge? They’re massive spans of concrete, metal, and wires which weigh thousands of tons yet remain standing — many even during destructive and violent natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes.

Bridges are also key to the way we move and serve as an important tool for many commuters. Despite this, how often do you read a piece extolling the greatness of a bridge, or hear an ode to their wonders? Not often enough, by our measure. Let’s correct that, shall we? Here are seven of the most impressive bridges out there.

Longest suspension bridge — Akashi Kaikyo Bridge

Location
Year completed
Length
Architect
Japan
1998
2.4 miles
Satoshi Kashima

Suspension bridges are, arguably, the most interesting type of bridges. Think about it: A giant structure of wires and pylons manipulating tension and compression to allow for a single span of heavy material to be suspended in air, thus letting it bridge wide chasms and bodies of water. The Golden Gate Bridge is perhaps the most iconic of this style of bridge, but it’s Akashi Kaikyo Bridge — aka the Pearl Bridge — that holds the title for the world’s longest suspension bridge. This 2.4-mile-long bridge reaches across the Akashi Strait, connecting the city of Kobe on the Honshu mainland with Awaji Island. Since 1998, the bridge has carried six lanes of traffic and approximately 23,000 cars a day between the two towns. The impressive central span ranks as the longest in the world at 1.24-miles long.

Longest cross-sea bridge — Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

Location
Year completed
Length
Architect
China
2017
31 miles
ARUP

China has long cemented itself as one of the leading countries when it comes to bridge building — and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge will only further the country’s reputation. Although China’s Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is currently the longest cross-sea bridge in the world, Hong Kong’s forthcoming marvel will be twice as long when it opens in late-2017.

Authorities see the new bridge as a vital connection between Hong Kong and more economically-depressed portions of southern China. Travel time between Hong Kong and Zhuhai or Macau will be slashed to about 40 minutes upon completion, which is significantly less than the current 4.5-hour trek. The hope is that Macau and Zhuhai will benefit from speedy access to Hong Kong’s shipping ports, and strengthen Hong Kong’s position as the economic heart of the region.

Although it will be the longest cross-sea bridge, it actually consists of two sections and three artificial islands. Connecting the two sections is a 1.7-mile tunnel closer to the Hong Kong side, which gives enough space for large shipping vessels to pass through.

Not everything has gone according to plan, however. Construction began in 2009, but ongoing issues with land reclamation has caused major delays. Construction on the bridge ended in late-2016, however, paving the bridge might take up to a year. There’s also the cost: At completion, the bridge will have set the Chinese government back some US$10 billion.

Longest continuous bridge over water: Lake Pontchartrain Causeway

Location
Year completed
Length
Architect
Louisiana, United States
1956
23.87 miles
Louisiana Bridge Company

While the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge currently holds the record for the longest over water in aggregate, this entry holds the record for the longest continuous span over water. This distinction was the result of some controversy regarding the two bridges. Prior to the opening of the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in 2011, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway — a 23.87-mile-long, low-level trestle bridge bisecting Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana — had held the record for longest bridge over water for decades. After the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge snagged the record, those behind the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway ascertained that their bridge represented a longer continuous span over water. This turned out to be the case, and thus the two distinct records were created to give props to both structures.

Tallest bridge — Millau Viaduct

Location
Year completed
Length
Architect
Aveyron, France
2004
1.53 miles
Norman Foster, Michel Virlogeux

We’ve given a lot of attention to bridges with impressive lengths, but that isn’t the only measure that makes a bridge noteworthy. The tallest bridge in the world — meaning the furthest the span is suspended above ground — is the Millau Viaduct, located in Aveyron, France. The Millau Viaduct is a stayed-cable bridge that stretches 1.5 miles across the Tarn River Valley, offering 890 feet of clearance below its eight spans and carrying four lanes of traffic since it opened in 2004. The iconic structure has become a fixture of France’s countryside ever since, and is routinely heralded as one of the greatest feats of modern engineering. Both the bridge’s iconic look and the impressive engineering behind it are the result of the viaduct’s cable-stayed design, which uses massive pylons to hold thick steel cables that bear the weight of the structure’s spans.

Bonus bridge — India’s Living Root Bridges

In the Indian state of Meghalaya, in the northeastern part of the country, there is a remarkable practice of training fig trees to grow into bridges. The caretakers slowly but surely manipulate the tree roots as they grow, pushing them along and weaving them into walkways and river crossings. The process can take up to 15 years, but once complete, the bridges are usable for between 500 and 600 years. As the trees grow, the bridges become sturdier thanks to the strengthening and thickening of the roots. The bridges also have to particularly useful attribute of being self-renewing, especially given they don’t require the same sort of upkeep as man-made structures. Plus, they just look cool.

Bonus bridge — Lucky Knot Bridge

Location
Year completed
Length
Architect
Changsha, China
2016
600 feet
NEXT Architects

Another cool pedestrian bridge comes from China-based NEXT Architects. These designers got their inspiration from the Mobius ring — which is essentially a ring that twists — and knotting, a form of Chinese folk art that utilizes knots to create decorative shapes. The bridge passes about 78 feet over a river, and spans more than 600 feet in length. Three pedestrian lanes slink up and down across its spine, connecting two parks on opposite sides of a river.

Bonus bridge — Eshima Ohashi Bridge

Location
Year completed
Length
Architect
Chugoku, Japan
2004
5,577 feet
NEXT Architects

You’ll feel like you’re about to get on a roller coaster while gazing at Japan’s Eshima Ohashi Bridge, but it’s more of an optical illusion than anything else. The Inception-evoking structure quickly became an internet sensation upon its completion in 2004, namely because a slew of viral images made the bridge’s grades look steeper than they actually are. In reality, the grades on either side are about 5.1 and 6.1 percent, and those who have traveled over the bridge say it’s no different than driving over a hill. Still, the actual grades don’t make the pictures any less terrifying.




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