You likely use them every day, but have you ever stopped to consider how incredible bridges are? They’re massive spans of concrete, metal, and wires that weigh thousands of tons yet remain standing — even during destructive and violent natural disasters like 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 bridges, or hear an ode to their wonders? Not often enough, by our measure. Let’s correct that, shall we? Here’s a quick sampling of the biggest 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 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 example of this bridge style, 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
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
|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
|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 height of the structure’s tallest point — 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 1,125 peak 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.
Highest bridge — Duge Bridge
|Guizhou, China||2016||4,400 feet||Peng Yundong|
Tallest is one thing, but highest is another. By highest we mean the length between the bridge’s span and the lowest point of ground beneath it. That record belongs to the Duge bridge (also known as Beipanjiang Bridge Duge) in Guizhou, China. While the cable-stayed bridge itself is only 4,400 feet long, it connects two sides of a deep valley, with the span floating a daunting 1,854 feet above ground at the deepest point. That’s about 400 feet taller than the Empire State Building. That the record for the world’s highest bridge belongs to one in China’s Guizhou Province is no surprise; The region has more of the world’s highest bridges than every other country on earth combined. It is expected that by 2020, there will be more than 250 bridges at heights greater than 330 feet in the province. While that might seem like a lot, all those bridges serve an important an necessary function. Before serious bridge construction began in the Guizouh, travelling through its mountainous and ravine-filled countryside was difficult, with most transportation taking place on small, two-lane roads.
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
|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
|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.