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 import aspect of 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 the five of the most impressive bridges out there.
Longest Suspension Bridge: Akashi Kaikyo Bridge
|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 road 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 1.237 miles long.
Longest Cross-Sea Bridge: Jiaozhou Bay Bridge
|Shandong Province, China||2011||16.6 miles||Shandong Gausu Group|
Bridges are common as methods for crossing bodies of water of all sizes, from the smallest creek to the widest lakes, but what about crossing an entire sea? Enter the
Jiaozhou Bay Bridge. This huge bridge transects its namesake, the Jiaozhou Bay, at three points. It holds the Guinness world record as the “longest bridge over water (aggregate),” meaning the different spans of the bridge combined makes it the longest structure over water. China also is home to the longest land bridge as well, the Kunshan Grand Bridge, cementing the nation as the leader of bridge making.
Concerns were raised over the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge’s safety soon after it was completed in 2011, with reporters pointing out missing or unfinished crash barriers as well as loose bolts at certain intervals. Despite this, the bridge remains open, albeit to the confusion of some. Built for a projected 30,000 cars a day, the daily average is actually less than 10,000, and it has thus struggled to recoup its construction costs through tolls stations and taxes.
Longest Continuous Bridge Over Water: Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
|Louisiana, United States||1956||23.87 miles||Louisiana Bridge Company|
While the previous bridge holds the record as the longest over water in aggregate, this next 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 up 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
|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 December 2004. This iconic structure has become a fixture of the Southern-France countryside ever since, and is routinely heralded as one of the greatest feats of modern engineering. Both the iconic look and the impressive engineering 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.
Coolest Bridges: Indonesian Living Root Bridge
In the Indonesian 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 the 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 anywhere between 500 to 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 damn cool.