France Opens World’s Tallest Bridge

The world’s tallest bridge, Le Viaduc de Millau, has opened in southern France. It was built to relieve congestion and four hour delays on a heavily traveled section of highway that previously passed through the small, picturesque village of Millau in the Massif Central Mountains, northwest of Marseilles.

Designed by renowned British architect Sir Norman Foster, the cable-stay bridge utilizes bifurcated piers. The split design of the piers accommodates the large expansion and contraction which the steel and concrete roadway experiences as the temperature changes. The piers open and close like gigantic springs. The piers are monstrous in scale.

Next to the pier design, perhaps the most interesting feature of the engineering and construction of the bridge is the way the road and cable-stays were placed. The road and cable-stay assemblies were prefabricated on opposite sides of the valley and slid out onto the piers. The massive hydraulic lift and ram system used to do that was designed and operated by the American company Enerpac.

The French, who are famous for their dislike of modern utilitarian architecture, especially (but not limited to) skyscrapers, are having a mixed reaction to the bridge. The residents and businessmen of Millau seem rather happy with the bridge though. They’re relieved, for instance, to finally have those legendary traffic jams removed from their village and are hoping the now famous bridge will bring money spending tourists into the area. Millau can now be a place to stop and eat, rather than just pass through. Others, however, consider the bridge a gigantic eyesore on the countryside.

The bridge cost $523 million to build. All of the money invested was privately raised in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Tolls will vary from $6.50 in winter to $8.60 in summer. Trucks will pay $32.24 all year.

According to the AP, during the dedication ceremonies, which included a flyover of air force jets and fireworks, President Jacques Chirac commented:

“This exceptional opening will go down in industrial and technological history,” Chirac said, praising the designers and builders for creating “a prodigy of art and architecture…a new emblem of French civil engineering.”

The bridge will serve as a symbol of “a modern and conquering France.”


Great Photo
Image Gallery Select ‘Diaporama’ for a slide show.
Skyscraper City Be sure to check out the great construction photos on pages 4 & 5 of the thread.
Enerpac Hydraulic road sliding and placement. (Navigate from the menu on the left. Lots of info and photos.)
Viaduc de Millau Three active panoramas.
Active Panoramic Image Bridge and surrounding valley.

28 thoughts on “France Opens World’s Tallest Bridge”

  1. Inspiring! Another leap in engineering…what next, a trans-atlantic bridge? What a road trip that would be…

  2. Actually, I get the severe willies thinking about driving over a bridge that long, and that far up in the air. The Coronado Bay Bridge is about as much as I can stand, and even at that my hands are clenched so hard on the wheel that my knuckles are white…

  3. The French bridge is only about a hundred feet higher than the New River Gorge Bridge on Route 19 in West Virginia.

    The differences between the projects are instructive. Driving over the NRG, you are unaware of its height or size as there is no projecting superstucture to say look at me.

    The NRG arcs over the New River, which, ironically, is geologically one of the oldest rivers in North America, and is a spectacular river for whitewater rafting. The bridge does not impinge on the River at all or the people enjoying it for a day trip because as the bridge arches high above the river.

    BTW. West Virginia rafting has Colorado beat hollow. The water is warm and the air can sustain human life.

  4. The French like vast, public-financed projects as symbols of national grandeur. How much did this cost, I wonder? Lots and lots.

    Still, putting aside my grumbling, they deserve a round of applause for this spectacular structure.

  5. The Coronado Bay Bridge is about as much as I can stand…

    I’ve been over that bridge. You’re right, it is a little scary.

  6. IMO this French bridge is very cool. Mike forwarded a couple of even more dramatic photos of it. I didn’t post them only because he asked me to post just one of them and I thought that this one provides the best overview.

  7. I should add that you should look at Mike’s links for additional photos that give a better sense of the enormous scale of this thing. The photo at the top of the post doesn’t do it justice. It is colossal.

  8. That’s pretty funny, leave it up to the French to build the world’s tallest bridge… over land.

    I thought it was a joke until I saw that it’s real. I guess you can’t make this stuff up. For people who don’t want McDonald’s arches spoiling their fabled countryside, they sure did a fine job mucking that one up. I guess if not one arch, at least another arch (a US firm helped I read somwhere.) Go America. At least the locals like it.

    Next thing I bet you’ll tell me is that someone wants to build an underwater tunnel in Boston…

  9. Chirac: “…new emblem of French civil engineering”

    French civil engineering? Designed by a Brit and final construction by Americans? OK. Glad we’re OK with that Jacques, now its time to start on that government of yours!

    Now there’s a project!

  10. It is certainly very attractive bridge, but I can’t help wondering, as I looked at the site in that picture, if something more modest could not have been built for a LOT less.

    Perhaps with a trucks only bypass so that steeper grades would not slow down non-truck traffic?
    (Nothing like getting stuck behind a big truck labouring up a grade in low gear to appreciated designated lanes or by-passes)

  11. I can see paying $8.50 not to wait for four hours alone; I an also see paying it for what, because of the beauty and height, must be a real experience. (Actually, because I don’t live with them on a daily basis, of course, I do find some of those soaring cloverleafs attractive, too.)

    Did I miss it – or is this just a Texan question – but how many lanes is it?

  12. Ginny, it’s three lanes in each direction. Two will initially be put into service with the third serving as a shoulder.

    I’ve lived with highways and cloverleafs all my life and I’m still impressed with a well designed highway, bridge or interchange. Many of them are, to me, beautiful.

  13. Intrigued by Mr. Schwartz’ comment I took a look at the New River Bridge.

    Both took about 3.5 years to build. The NRG is 876 feet above the New River and the VM 891. However the length is almost 3 times greater, 3,030 vs 8,448 feet. Cost is where the big diference lies as the NRG cost $37,000 per foot (adjusted for inflation), VM cost $62,000 per foot.

    It would be interesting to understand why the designer chose to have 7 piers for the bridge. It is comparable to the Golden Gate Bridge in length (GGB=8981 feet) and the GGB has only two piers. The GGB also cost $31,000 per foot. And the Akashi Hankyo bridge spans 12,828 feet with only two piers. The VM piers appear to have increased the cost substantially.

    Trying to see seven piers in the span of the Golden Gate Bridge is a bit daunting. It seems like that many piers would make it very busy; but it looks great in the pictures. Nonetheless, I agree with Mr. Schwartz that the NRG integrates with its surroundings much better than the VM.

  14. “We were attracted by the elegance and logic of a structure that would march across the heroic landscape and in the most minimal way connect one plateau to the other,” said Foster, who designed the glass dome that tops Germany’s Reichstag parliament building in Berlin.”

    Minimal? ummm, yeah…

  15. Then there are the wonderful bridges that are simply not very photogenic. I have a great fondness for the Sunshine Skyway, but have seen few photos in which it didn’t appear clunky and graceless. In the (concrete and steel) flesh, though, it’s wonderful.

  16. Loath be I to accuse architects of egotism, but I note that the bridge in France was designed by a FAMOUS British architect while the New River Gorge Bridge was designed by a civil servant. see the post by Incognito above and this link.

  17. We heard somewhere, that this magnificent bridge actually leads to nowhere. The road on the other side of it basically dead ends.

    Leave it to the French to build a bridge to nowhere.

  18. Torchpraise. Take out your maps of Europe, you will note the new French bridge ie:This Concorde of bridges ( no comments please re the Concorde crash )happens to be the main route into Spain for the majority of all Europeans and in the Summer months will carry over 200,000 vehicles each day.

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