15 of the world's longest bridges
By Matt Hickman, Mother Nature Network, 21 June 2017.
By Matt Hickman, Mother Nature Network, 21 June 2017.
You've got to hand it to China.
Over the last decade, the Middle Kingdom has proven itself to be the length-obsessed kingdom when it comes to bridge building. Just 10 years ago, China's presence in the ranking of the world's longest bridges was minimal. Today, China dominates that list, claiming 14 of the world's 20 longest bridges with many more super-elongated spans in the works.
However, a list composed of predominately Chinese bridges, many of them land-bound high-speed rail affairs, does not a good list make. This is why we've taken a wider-angle approach that includes a superlative Chinese span but also the longest bridges out there based on type and geographic locale.
From the Willamette River to the Bosphorus strait to a recent addition that spans the mighty Brahmaputra in far northeastern India, all of these bridges - suspension, cable-stayed, cantilever, continuous truss, floating, bascule, covered, you name it - are impressive feats of engineering in their own right, like the Akashi Kaikyō Bridge (pictured top) that stretches the Akashi Strait in Japan. And while many of these bridges are shiny and newly built works of modern infrastructure, others are decades-old landmarks that come equipped with fascinating, sometimes troubled histories.
Have you traversed any of those exceptionally lengthy bridges?
1. Broadway Bridge
It's fair to say that Portland, Oregon, is a town populated by folks with strong opinions about all 11 of the city's Willamette River-crossing road bridges - most Portlanders have a favorite, a least favorite and one that they avoid at all costs.
The bridge that a good number of Portlanders - or the old timers, at least - seem to hold dearest to their heart, however, is the Broadway Bridge, a multi-modal (pedestrians, bicycles, streetcars and run-of-the-mill vehicular traffic) span constructed in 1913 as the first ever bascule bridge span - or drawbridge - in the City of Roses. (Only three other Willamette bridges, all vertical-lift spans, are older.) Done up in a photogenic shade of international orange (aka "Golden Gate red"), the Broadway Bridge, with an overall length of 1,742 feet and a central span of 278 feet, holds the distinction of being the longest bascule bridge of its type in the world. (And the seventh longest bascule bridge of any type in the world).
Carrying Broadway across the Willamette from the Pearl District to Portland's patchwork of northeastern neighborhoods, this handsome workhouse has gone through several upgrades and restorations over the years. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
2. Dhola-Sadiya Bridge
Photo: Dhola Sadiya River Bridge/Wikimedia Commons
The most recently completed bridge to appear on our list, the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge - or Bhupen Hazarika Setu - was inaugurated May 27, 2017, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam. Stretching across the Lohit River, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, the structure is a simple, utilitarian beam bridge absent of dramatic arches, soaring towers and architectural flourishes.
Still, the US$155 million infrastructure project is a feat of engineering over five years in the making that provides a time-saving, trade-bolstering road link between Assam and the poor, China-bordering state of Arunachal Prades. (It saves motorists traveling along this route an impressive five hours of drive time). The Dhola-Sadiya Bridge is also noteworthy in its overall length. At 5.69 miles, the bridge is the longest in India. It's been a while since this honor has been transferred to a new span on the scene as the previous title-holder, the Ganges-crossing Mahatma Gandhi Setu, opened back in 1982. India's now third-longest bridge, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai, was completed more recently in 2009.
While there are myriad benefits attached to India's newest and longest road bridge, an op-ed published in FirstPost highlights a major drawback revolving around job losses suffered by local boatmen who will no longer ferry passengers across the river now that the bridge has made their services obsolete. "This bridge's adverse impact may fall on a small number of people, but to each of those affected, it can be a crushing blow," reads the article.
3. Akashi Kaikyō Bridge
Photo: Xiaojun Deng/Flickr
It's easy to assume that America's historic, ultra-iconic suspension bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge and New York City's Verrazano-Narrows Bridge are among the world's longest. The truth is that while both of these suspension bridges did rule as the world's longest for periods of time during the 20th century (1937 to 1964 and 1964 to 1981, respectively), nowadays they don't even crack the top 10. (The Verrazano is now the world's 13th longest, inching out the Golden Gate by a mere 60 feet when measuring their main spans.)
Opened to traffic in 1998, Japan's Akashi Kaikyō Bridge is the current title-holder in the suspension bridge category with its longest span extending a staggering 6,532 feet or 1.24 miles. (The structure's total length is double that at nearly two-and-a-half miles.) An awe-inspiring feat of earthquake-resistant modern engineering that took 10 years to complete, this bustling - and often festively illuminated - suspension bridge carries the Honshu-Shikoku Highway across the Akashi Strait, linking the city of Kobe to Awaji Island. Replacing a perilous ferry route across the congested and severe weather-prone waterway, Akashi Kaikyō Bridge is used by an estimated 23,000 motorists daily.
4. Chaotianmen Bridge
Photo: Thomas Bächinger/Flickr
As China builds, grows and explodes at a breakneck speed, the number of superlatively long bridges (terrifying see-through pedestrian spans not included) that have been erected across the country in recent years is difficult to keep up with. Six of the 10 world's longest bridges of any type are all located in China. However, these bridges are all part of high-speed rail lines - most of them the Beijing-Shanghai High-Speed Railway - and aren't entirely thrilling to look at or read about. While exceptionally long, these bridges lack the elegance, power and history of the other bridges on this list.
This leads us to the Chaotianmen Bridge, a multi-modal double-deck crossing that has stretched over the Yangtze River in the hilly southwestern megacity of Chongqing since 2009. As the longest through arch bridge in the world, this flamboyant steel structure with a candy cane paint job is 5,712 feet with its longest span measuring 1,811 feet. Through arch bridges - other examples include the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge in New Jersey and New York City's ominously named Hell's Gate Bridge - are recognizable in that the deck of the bridge passes through the arch of the bridge, which begins below the deck and then rises above it. This may sound confusing, but they're distinguishable from standard deck arch bridges. China is also home to the world's second longest suspension bridge, the Xihoumen Bridge, and a number of notably long stayed-cable bridges.
5. Evergreen Point Floating Bridge
It's only appropriate that the world's longest floating bridge, a pontoon-supported marvel of engineering, is located in the undisputed floating bridge capital of the world: Washington state. As the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote in 2012, "Washington state knows a thing or two about how to take a massive chunk of concrete and make it float."
Stretching 7,710 feet across Lake Washington, the current Evergreen Point Floating Bridge - its official name is the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge but most locals just call it the 520 Bridge as it carries State Route 520 from Seattle to its eastern suburbs - opened to traffic in April 2016, replacing its slightly shorter predecessor which opened in 1963. A true sight to behold, the new Evergreen Point Floating Bridge is much more robust in design than the bridge it replaces and able to better withstand both severe weather and seismic activity. What's more, it includes a dedicated lane for cyclists and pedestrians in addition to four lanes of traffic, a feature absent in its more congestion-prone predecessor.
The 520 Bridge is one of three floating bridges that span Lake Washington. Located south of the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, the Lacey V. Murrow Bridge (the world's second longest floating bridge) and the Homer M. Hadley Bridge (the world's fifth longest floating bridge) carry eastbound and westbound Interstate 90 traffic, respectively, across the lake from Seattle to Mercer Island and beyond. The world's third longest floating bridge, the Hood Canal Bridge, connects Washington's Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas, while the world's fourth longest floating bridge is found about as far away from the Pacific Northwest as you can get in Georgetown, Guyana.
6. Hartland Bridge
Photo: Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
Since 1922, New Brunswick has been home to the Hartland Bridge, the longest covered bridge in Canada - strike that, in the world.
At 1,282 feet, this marvel of early 20th century engineering was constructed - sans cover - in 1901 to replace a ferry that shuttled passengers across the Saint John River. It wasn't until 21 years later when a wooden enclosure was added during a repair overhaul that this Howe-style truss bridge was reborn a covered bridge. Apparently, this decision was not embraced by the more virtuous members of the surrounding farming communities despite the fact that the addition of a cover helped to extend the bridge's lifespan by protecting its structural elements from the, well, elements. You see, young men in the horse-drawn-carriage era were in the habit of training their horses to stop halfway across covered bridges - which New Brunswick has a bounty of - so that they could more easily lean in for a smooch with passengers of the fairer sex.
Due to the considerable length of the Hartland Bridge, some worried that a lot more than just innocent kisses would transpire on the darkened, privacy-affording span. Despite concerns over the potential for unchaste activity, the bridge, designated as a National Historic Site in 1980, was covered, and sweethearts have been locking lips on it ever since. In addition to participating in light hanky-panky, locals are also known to hold their breath while driving across the bridge - it is thought to bring good luck.
7. Ikitsuki Bridge
Photo: STA3816/Wikimedia Commons
Not to be confused with similar-looking cantilever bridges, continuous truss bridges are a type of truss bridge in which a roadway or railway extends across three or more supports without hinges or joints. Like with most "world's longest" bridge rankings, the length of a continuous truss bridge is predominately based on the length of the main span and not the combined total length of each continuous span, of which there are usually multiple.
Judging by this criteria, the Ikitsuki Bridge in Japan is the world's longest continuous truss bridge at just over 1,300 feet. Painted in an eye-pleasing baby blue, the all-steel structure connects the scenic and popular-with-tourists island of Ikitsuku with the much larger neighboring island of Hirado in Japan's Nagasaki Prefecture.
When construction on the Korea Strait-traversing Ikitsuki Bridge wrapped up in 1991, it nabbed the title from the Astoria-Megler Bridge, a Columbia River-spanning link between Oregon and Washington that was inaugurated in 1966. Other notable continuous truss span bridges include Baltimore's Francis Key Scott Bridge (1977), the Braga Bridge (1966) in southeastern Massachusetts, Cincinnati's Taylor-Southgate Bridge (1995) and the historic Sciotoville Bridge, which opened to rail traffic across the Ohio River in 1916.
8. Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
Super-long bridges are as common in Louisiana as crawfish boils and public nudity on Fat Tuesday. In fact, the list of America's longest bridges is dominated by the Pelican State with the 24-mile-long Lake Pontchartrain Causeway claiming the very top spot. The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway - "the Causeway" - has also enjoyed longest-bridge-over-water-in-the-world status ever since its northbound span opened in 1969.
However, with the arrival of China's 26-mile-long Jiaozhou Bay Bridge in 2011, the Causeway was forced to share the honor. Now the Causeway is not the world's longest bridge over water, period, but the world's longest bridge over water based on continuous length, while the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is the world’s longest bridge over water based on aggregate length. (The Causeway website ignores these technicalities and still promotes itself as the longest.)
Designated as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2013, the Causeway is also a survivor having emerged from Hurricane Katrina mostly unscathed with minimal, non-structural damage. Crucial to post-storm recovery efforts, both two-lane trestle bridges reopened to emergency responders three weeks after the storm on Sept. 19, 2005. The general public was allowed to access the Causeway shortly thereafter with tolls suspended until mid-October. On that note, the cash fare for a southbound drive across the Causeway is US$5. The return trip heading away from New Orleans toward St. Tammany Parish and Louisiana's "Northshore" is free. When the Causeway opened, it cost just two bucks to make the trip.
9. Øresund Bridge
Photo: News Oresund/Flickr
Øresundbroen - or Öresundbron if you're a Swede - isn't just the only bridge on our list to link two countries, it's also the only one to have its very own gritty Scandinavian police procedural named in its honor: "The Bridge." That's something!
Spanning the Øresund Strait to link the Danish capital of Copenhagen with the bustling, culture-packed Swedish city of Malmö, this cable-stayed bridge is also the longest combined road-rail bridge in Europe at just under 26,000 feet. That's almost 5 miles of truly beautiful driving or train riding - but seriously, the views from the bridge during midsummer sunset are among the prettiest in the world.
Opened in 2000 after a 5-year construction period that was preceded by decades of planning-related fits and starts, the bridge itself is basically a 2.6 billion euro infrastructure megaproject masquerading as a work of art. It's that beautiful. And the Øresund Bridge isn't the only component of this economy-bolstering crossing. Traveling southeast from Copenhagen toward Malmö, road and rail traffic is first carried through a 2.5-mile-long tunnel underneath the strait to the small artificial island of Peberholm where the bridge begins. By car, the whole trip takes about 10 minutes.
10. Quebec Bridge
Photo: Doug Kerr/Flickr
Founded in 1608 as one of North America's oldest European settlements, Quebec City and its stunningly preserved colonial architecture enchants and intrigues without much effort. Of particular interest to infrastructure buffs is a bona fide marvel of engineering that didn't arrive until late on the scene in 1919: Pont de Québec - the Quebec Bridge.
Completed after not one but two life-claiming construction failures in 1907 and 1916, Quebec City's oldest and most emblematic span over the St. Lawrence River remains the longest cantilever bridge in the world with a total length of 3,238 feet with a central span of 1,801 feet. Sure, it's not all that impressive when considering the lengthy spans of other bridge types like suspension bridges. But for a cantilever bridge, this is exceptional - and, to this day, has never been topped. (Other cantilever bridges of considerable length include the Delaware River-spanning Commodore Barry Bridge; the Minato Bridge in Osaka, Japan; and New York's very own "scary of the scaries," the Tappan Zee Bridge.)
Linking suburban Quebec City to the city of Lévis, the Quebec Bridge was originally designed as a rail-only bridge but now also accommodates pedestrians and motor vehicles. At one point in its long and difficult history, the Canadian National Railway-owned structure accommodated a streetcar line as well. Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1996, this pont magnifique is located a stone's throw upriver from the Pierre Laporte Bridge, a 1970 suspension bridge that sports the longest main span in all of Canada.
11. Russky Bridge
Photo: Martin Boswell/Flickr
From France's Millau Viaduct to Erasmus Bridge in Rotterdam to the newly-opened Kosciuszko Bridge replacement (at long last!) that links the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, cable-stayed bridges are a highly photogenic bunch. (The postcard-perfect Øresund Bridge and Vasco da Gama Bridge are both examples of cable-stayed bridges included in this list.)
While good looks don't necessarily translate to length measurements, it's safe to say that the Russky Bridge, erected across the Eastern Bosphorus strait in the Russian Far East in 2012, boasts both a record-setting central span of 3,622 feet and striking looks.
At the same time, the Russky Bridge is also strikingly useless. Criticized as a US$1 billion (total costs were never made public) vanity project, the grossly underused bridge, as dramatic as it may be, serves no practical infrastructure needs and ranks among the world's most egregious white elephant projects.
Other exceptionally long - and much more highly trafficked - cable stayed bridges are mostly, but not exclusively, limited to China. Usually erected when a span is required to be longer than a cantilever bridge but shorter than a suspension bridge, the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere is the Mississippi River-spanning John James Audubon Bridge in Louisiana. Opened to vehicle traffic in 2011, its longest span is 1,583 feet (but even it is struggling to get a lot of traffic).
12. Rio-Niterói Bridge
Photo: Arthur Boppré/Wikimedia Commons
While the bridge itself isn't the most attractive specimen to appear on this list, this box girder bridge stretching across Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro is certainly worthy of inclusion as the longest bridge in Latin America. Carrying eight lanes of BR-101, Brazil's super-long (3,000 miles!) trans-coastal highway, the bridge is on par with Christ the Redeemer and Copacabana Beach when it comes to Rio's most emblematic sights. No trip to Brazil's second largest city is complete without a trip across it.
With a total length of 8.25 miles, the mighty Rio-Niterói Bridge even reigned, from its completion in 1974 until 1985, as the world's longest bridge over water, second only to Louisiana's Lake Pontchartrain Bridge. With a dizzying central span measuring 980-feet-long, the prestressed concrete structure was also the longest bridge of its type until Norway's Stolma Bridge and its 988-foot-long main span came along in the late 1990s and snagged its title. Other box girder bridges of note include Scotland's cable-stayed Erskine Bridge, the Cleddau Bridge in Wales, Rhode Island's Jamestown Verrazzano Bridge and the new Saint Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis.
13. Vasco da Gama Bridge
Photo: F Mira/Flickr
A beauty of a bridge found in a beauty of a city, Portugal's Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon is a cable-stayed crossing that, when including its span-flanking viaducts, can claim bragging rights as the longest bridge in Europe at nearly 7 miles. (The bridge's longest span is a mere 1,378 feet, roughly half the length of the world's longest cable-stayed span, the Russky Bridge in Vladivostok, Russia.)
Spanning the mighty Tagus River, the Vasco de Gama is a relatively new Lisbon landmark having been completed just ahead of the 1998 Lisbon Exposition, an edition of the world's fair celebrating Portugal's penchant for churning out world-changing maritime explorers including, of course, the bridge's namesake navigator. A megaproject in the truest sense, the US$1.1 billion bridge carries six lanes of freeway traffic from Lisbon proper to the city's suburban municipalities. Northbound motorists pay a toll of just under 3 euros.
Equally as photogenic but wholly different in design and character is Lisbon's 25 de Abril Bridge, a suspension bridge bearing an uncanny resemblance to two of the San Francisco Bay Area's most iconic bridges. It has the same international orange paint job as the Golden Gate while being very similar in design to the western span of the Bay Bridge - it helps that they were both designed by the same Pittsburgh-based engineering firm. When completed in 1966, the 25 de Abril Bridge ranked among the world's longest suspension bridges. Nowadays, it ranks quite a bit further down the list.
14. Walkway Over the Hudson
Photo: Shinya Suzuki/Flickr
Built in 1889, it took a long while - 120 years, to be exact - for the steel cantilever rail bridge formerly known Poughkeepsie Bridge to be reborn. But if you've ever sauntered across Walkway Over the Hudson, the dizzying centerpiece of New York's Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, you know it was well worth the wait.
As the world's longest elevated pedestrian bridge at 6,768 feet (1.28 miles), Walkway Over the Hudson is an example of adaptive reuse at it's most straightforward - and also at its most dramatic. On paper, transforming a long-defunct rail bridge - the historic span was shuttered in 1974 following a fire and, before that, an extended period of decline - spanning the Hudson River 75 miles north of New York City into a pedestrians-only linear park might seem a bit batty, even impossible. And many believed it was. But thanks to the tireless efforts of local activists followed by an extensive US$38.8 million restoration, this "orphaned relic" situated 212 feet above the Hudson was reborn as a linear park in 2009.
Open to the public year-round from 7 a.m. to sunset, there's no fee involved with strolling - or jogging, biking, roller-skating, picnicking, birding, marching or enjoying a zesty constitutional with a furry (leashed) friend - across Walkway Over the Hudson. Serious acrophobes may want to steer clear (even this normally ok-with-heights author's knees buckled on his fist visit) but everyone else should place this singular park on the tippy-top of their Empire State bucket list.
15. Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge
Photo: VikiPicture/Wikimedia Commons
First things first: Istanbul's Yavus Sultan Selim Bridge isn't the longest suspension bridge in Europe - or Asia, for that matter. It's not even the longest suspension bridge in Turkey - that honor goes to the Gulf of İzmit-spanning Osman Gazi Bridge. But with a total length of 7,100 feet and a central span measuring an impressive 4,619 feet, this combined rail-motor crossing over the Bosphorus Strait does still manage to crack the top 10. And in addition to being the world's tallest suspension bridge at a dizzying 1,056 feet and the world's widest suspension bridge, the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge is the only bridge on our list that links two continents. In other words, even its list of superlatives is lengthy.
Completed - and not without controversy - in 2016 as Istanbul's third suspension bridge built across the Bosphorus strait, Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge carries four lanes of the Northern Marmara Motorway and a single rail line between the European district of Sarıyer and the Anatolian (Asian) district of Beykoz. The impressive span is situated just north of Istanbul's two older continent-linking suspension bridges, the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge and the Bosphorus Bridge (aka the First Bridge), which, upon its completion in 1973, was the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world - the iconic U.S. trio of the Golden Gate Bridge, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Michigan's Mackinac Bridge were the only structures to sport longer spans at the time. In fact, the First Bridge was Asia's longest suspension bridge up until 1988 when work on the neighboring Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge was finished. Today, it's the world's 28th longest suspension bridge, beating out New York/New Jersey's double-decked George Washington Bridge, the busiest road bridge in the world, by a mere 24 feet.
Top image: Akashi Kaikyō Bridge. Credit: sanmai/Flickr.
[Source: Mother Nature Network. Some images added.]