They say you can judge a civilization by its roadways, which by turn must include the bridges that connect those roads. We’ve been erecting bridges as long as we’ve been building roads, but today’s bridges are nothing like the cobbled spans built by our ancestors. In fact, in many cases, they have only one thing in common. They’re bridges. In some cases, I would argue, they are so much more than that.
The marvels you’ll find below are works of art as much as they are feats of engineering. If we truly could measure ourselves by the bridges that connect our roads, at least in terms of this list, we could consider ourselves impressive…
Clifton Suspension Bridge – 1864
Not the longest, the tallest or even the widest of the bunch, the Clifton Suspension Bridge carries the distinction of the most venerable bridge on this list. It lives in Bristol in the UK. When built, this bridge replaced an older bridge made of homes and businesses, which rose from the river to hold up the crossing. The rental of those spaces paid for that bridge. The new bridge, however, pays for itself by collecting a toll from those who would cross it, the same way it has since 1864.
Vasco da Gama Bridge – 1998
Designed and built to relieve congestion in Lisbon, the Vasco da Gama is the longest bridge in Europe. It’s 7.6 miles long. Not only is it long, but wide. There are six roadways on the Vasco da Gama. The project took only three years to complete, once they started preparation. The final product is no doubt a looker, accentuated by rolling fog like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
Øresund Bridge – 2000
Spanning a gap between Denmark and Norway, the Øresund Bridge is a bridge and a tunnel. I know, it’s confusing. Look in the upper right corner of the picture. There, the road connects to a human-made island called Peberholm, where it goes under the water. If you’ll notice, the bridge is thick. That’s because there is a railway that passes under the road. Since it connects countries, you have to carry your passport to cross it and you’ll want to bring some cash. Paying for such a marvel isn’t cheap. There’s a toll.
The Millau Viaduct – 2004
One of Humanity’s most remarkable engineering feats, the Millau Bridge crosses the valley of the River Tarn in southern France. Yes, it is long at 2,460 meters, but it breaks the record for the tallest bridge at 343 meters at the highest point above the base. Why span the valley and not just build a bridge over the river that once carved that valley? Because they are the French? (Just kidding, France.) The low route crossed the water table, lengthened the drive and would have created problems for the town.
Hangzhou Bay Bridge – 2008
At one time, it took four hours to travel between Ningbo and Shanghai, as one had to drive around the Qiantang River Delta. Engineers had to design the Hangzhou bridge to withstand not only very strong tides but the frequent earthquakes that affect the area. It took over 600 experts a decade to design the bridge, then four years to build it. Since it’s opening, they’ve added a tourist destination in the middle of the expanse (not pictured) with a restaurant, gas station, hotel, and lookout tower.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge – 2008
Of this list, this is the only one you can’t drive. The Gateshead Millennium is a tilt-bridge in Gateshead and Newcastle on the Tyne River. They intended it for only foot traffic and bicycles. The tilting action of the bridge allows boats to pass underneath. Engineers designed the bridge as one piece, which is exactly how the installed it. It traveled on a massive floating crane, which lowered the bridge into place.