World's Longest Bridges
If you ever find yourself in Hunan, China, rent a car and drive the Jishou-Chadong Expressway: 18 tunnels under the Wuling mountains that culminate at the Aizhai Bridge, a gut-churning 1,150-foot-high suspension bridge over the Dehang Canyon. It’s a man-made wonder, the world’s highest (and maybe even scariest) tunnel-to-tunnel bridge—and yet it ranks only 15th among the world’s longest suspension bridges.
For the thrill of seeing No. 1, you’d need to head to Kobe, Japan, and marvel at the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. But in the race to build the biggest and baddest bridges of them all, record-hungry China tends to dominate in hard stats; five out of the top 10 suspension bridges are there, for instance. So instead of a China-heavy list of bridges, we’ve focused on a variety of categories, from covered bridges to pontoon floaters, to bring you a diverse cross section of the longest.
Take the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway. It may not be the longest bridge over water—Guinness bestows that honor on China’s 25.84-mile-long Jiaozhou Bay Bridge project—but it has the longest continuous stretch over water: 24 miles of roadway easily trumping Jiaozhou’s 16.1 miles once any overland portions are omitted. To us, that’s the essence of the bridge.
For bridges such as suspension and arch, we didn’t look at total length either, but instead opted for the common engineering practice of ranking by span length. Experts agree a larger span indicates greater technological prowess.
From the ice roads of Arctic Alaska to a cable-stayed controversy on the other side of the Bering Strait—stretching over cities, seas, and even the jungle canopy—the world’s longest bridges exist on a scale that can only be described as stupefying. Be sure to gas up before you take them on.
Longest Suspension Bridge Span: Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge, Kobe, Japan
Length: 6,532 ft.
Before this steel behemoth bridged the Akashi Strait that separates Kobe from Iwaya, severe storms in the area would routinely sink ferries. Not that the world’s longest suspension bridge has it any easier: every day, 23,000 cars pass over a structure that must withstand earthquakes (a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit in 1995), consistently strong tidal currents (9 knots), and wind gusts up to 179 mph. Completed in 1998, the record-setting central span 213 feet above the sea makes up over half its total 12,831-foot length; by comparison, the Golden Gate’s central span is only 4,200 feet. For an up-close-and-personal (and gut-dropping) view, bridge tours take visitors to the top of one of the towers. jb-honshi.co.jp
Longest Inhabited Bridge: Krämerbrücke, Erfurt, Germany
Length: 259 ft.
Like the Old London Bridge before it and Italy’s Ponte Vecchio, the fairy tale–like Krämerbrücke, or Merchant’s Bridge, is a bit of European history preserved in the modern day. After a series of fires destroyed previous attempts to build a span over the Breitstrom river in the 12th and 13th centuries, a stone arch bridge was built in 1325. Eventually, 62 half-timbered houses were added on top, 32 of which survived till today and continue to be home to shopkeepers and artisans. This multipurpose bridge has likely inspired more contemporary versions, like Zaha Hadid’s 919-foot-long Bridge Pavilion in Zaragoza, Spain. erfurt-tourismus.de
Longest Bridge Over Water (Continuous): Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, Louisiana
Length: 23.87 miles
Due to recent feats of Chinese engineering, the four-lane, 5,189-pile concrete trestle bridge north of New Orleans got demoted by Guinness World Records for world’s longest bridge over water. But the change did not come without controversy, with many Pontchartrain loyalists arguing that the new winner, a 25.84-mile elevated highway-bridge-tunnel project near Qingdao, China, actually has only 16.1 miles that span the sea compared to 23.79 miles of Pontchartrain’s that are over open water. Guinness compromised by bestowing a new title upon the 58-year-old causeway: Longest Bridge Over Water (Continuous). However you rank it, it’s still a pulse-quickening half-hour drive. thecauseway.us
Longest Canopy Walkway: Taman Negara Canopy Walkway, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Length: 1,509 ft.
Deep in the heart of the Malaysian jungle, the Taman Negara Canopy Walkway provides visitors with unparalleled views and no shortage of thrills. For a mere $1.50, adventurers can channel their inner macaque (and probably see one, too) while traversing more than a quarter mile of narrow bridges strewn between centuries-old trees, offering up-close-and-vertigo-inducing views of local flora and fauna—160 feet above the jungle floor. taman-negara.com
Longest Floating Bridge: Evergreen Point Bridge, Seattle
Length: 7,580 ft.
Officially known as Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge (the Washington statesman who oversaw its creation in the early 1960), this section of State Route 520 connects Seattle to its eastern suburbs via a roadway that floats atop Lake Washington on 33 football field–size pontoons. The design was chosen due to the lake’s unstable bed and the curved nature of the roadway (a common problem for the area, which would explain why the state is home to four of the five largest floating bridges in the world). The aging structure is currently being replaced by a larger, even longer, more modern floating bridge that can even accommodate a light-rail system. wsdot.wa.gov
Longest Masonry Arch Bridge Span: Pont de la Libération, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, France
Length: 315 ft.
Though arch bridges are still popular today, they’re usually built with modern materials like steel (see: Chongqing, China’s Chaotianmen Bridge, at 5,712 feet the longest arch bridge span, period). Which is a shame, considering some masonry arch bridges (brick and/or stone) are so mathematically precise, not to mention beautiful, they could stand without mortar. More than 100 years old and spanning the Lot river in southwestern France, the Pont de la Libération is made of brick and unreinforced concrete—technically very small stones and mortar. If it’s anything like its distant cousin the Pont du Gard aqueduct, it will stand for hundreds more. Take note, China bridge barons.
Longest Covered Bridge:The Hartland Bridge, New Brunswick, Canada
Length: 1,283 ft.
The bridges of Madison County have nothing on this 112-year-old National Historic Site of Canada, which became the world’s longest covered bridge only after two spans were destroyed by river ice in 1920, prompting replacement and a roof (covering helps prevent rot on the central wooden trusses). Built as a private bridge by a coalition of residents desperately in need of a direct way across the Saint John River—3 cents for a pedestrian; 6 cents for a horse and wagon—it’s now a regional icon open to all, beloved enough to get its own Google Doodle. town.hartland.nb.ca
Longest Rail Bridge: Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge, China
Length: 102.4 miles
Connecting Shanghai to Nanjing along the Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway, this elevated viaduct was named the world’s longest bridge—period—by Guinness World Records when it opened in 2011. (Also on the railway, the 70.6-mile Tianjin Grand Bridge, which connects Langfang to Qingxian, is the world’s second longest.) Running parallel to the Yangtze River past lowland rice paddies, most of the span acts as an elevated railway, similar to the El in Chicago, though a 5.6-mile section does act like a traditional bridge, crossing the Yangcheng Lake in Suzhou.
Longest Ice Bridge: Beaufort Sea Road, Alaska
Length: 68 miles
Time, fortitude, and frigid cold are the only tools needed to build an ice bridge. Made popular by the hit reality TV series Ice Road Truckers, many of these cold-temperature roadways traverse a snowy mix of land and frozen lakes. But this span over the Beaufort Sea to Alaska’s northernmost oil fields is pure Arctic ice. One of the most dangerous (and unique) bridges on this list, it is also one of the only ways to service the ExxonMobil hub of Point Thomson.
Longest Natural Bridge Span: The Fairy Bridge, Guangxi, China
Length: 400 ft.
Though bridges are one of the greatest examples of human engineering, they are hardly a creation unique to man: rock archways hewn by Mother Nature (usually by erosion) likely provided inspiration for our brick-and-steel masterworks. And wouldn’t you know it, even in this category of bridges, China still dominates. The country is home to three of the longest natural bridge spans in the world, including the 400-foot stunner over the Buliu River near the border of Vietnam. Carved out of a limestone karst, the Fairy Bridge (Xianren Qiao) is an isolated structure accessible only by a three-hour rafting trip. naturalarches.org
Longest Bridge-Tunnel Hybrid: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Virginia
Length: 17.6 miles
A marvel of American engineering, US Route 13 connects Virgina Beach to the state’s rural Eastern Shore by a seemingly endless stretch of trestle bridges (more than 5,000 concrete piles total) before dipping suddenly under the bay into two one-mile-long tunnels, as if by magic. Four man-made islands are the secret to the trick. A major roadway for Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, the CBBT has impressively held its longest bridge-tunnel hybrid title for 50 years, even being called one of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World, despite challenges from abroad like the Øresund Link, which connects Copenhagen to Malmö, Sweden (a measly five miles long). cbbt.com
Longest Cable-Stayed Bridge Span: Russky Bridge, Vladivostok, Russia
Length: 3,622 ft.
Built to serve APEC’s 2012 conference on Russky Island (pop: 5,000), this controversial $1 billion beauty may look like a suspension bridge, but it’s an entirely different technological wonder, relying not on cables anchored into the earth and held up by towers, but using the towers themselves to support its weight. (At 1,053 feet they’re second only in height to the pylons of the Millau Viaduct.) The benefits of a cable-stayed bridge (especially its ease of installation) have made it the de rigueur design of the last decade, with starchitects pushing bridge design limits. For instance, China’s Jiashao Bridge may not trump Russky’s record-making central span (a third of its 10,200-foot total), but its total length is an incredible 37.28 miles. rusbridge.net
Longest Pedestrian Bridge in North America: Walkway Over the Hudson, Poughkeepsie, NY
Length: 6,768 ft.
NYC’s High Line wasn’t the only converted railway to find new life as a public park. Farther upstate along the Hudson River, a two-rail bridge connecting Poughkeepsie to Highland, NY was rechristened the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park in 2009. The beautiful cantilever deck truss bridge rises 212 feet over an unusually straight stretch of river, allowing pedestrians and bikers endless views of the horizon along its mile-and-a-quarter span. But watch out: when the High Line’s Phase 3 opens this year, completing its 1.45-mile stretch, it will become both North America’s and the world’s longest pedestrian bridge, a title the 12th-century Anping Bridge in Fujian, China, currently holds. walkway.org
Longest Cantilever Bridge Span: The Quebec Bridge, Quebec
Length: 1,800 ft.
Before the Quebec Bridge connected Quebec City to Lévis, one of the only ways to cross the St. Lawrence River was to wait for winter’s freeze to create an ice bridge. The remedy—and to ensure Quebec could compete with Montreal for rail traffic—was an audacious cantilever bridge. Erecting the riveted steel truss structure was no easy task, and early builds proved disastrous: a total of 89 lives were lost in not one, but two failed attempts (1907 and again in 1916). Finally, in December 1919, the 94-foot-wide, 1,800-foot-long central span was jacked 150 feet into place, and it has remained the record-holder ever since. Today, it has a famous neighbor to the west, the Pierre Laporte Bridge, the longest suspension-bridge span in Canada.
Longest Continuous-Truss Bridge Span: Ikitsuki Bridge, Japan
Length: 1312 ft.
A common feature on bridges built before the turn of the century is the truss, a triangular unit used to distribute a bridge’s weight. Though it’s more common on smaller bridges, Japan opted for a bridge made of a continuous series of trusses to connect the island of Ikitsuki—known for its stunning cliffs—to Hirado near Nagasaki in southern Japan. Built in 1991, the picturesque baby-blue bridge crosses the windy Korea Strait and provides regular access to what had once been a remote enclave of Christians and whalers.
Longest Handmade Bridge: Q’eswachaka Bridge, Canas, Peru
Length: 92 ft.
Maybe Indiana Jones’s Temple of Doom antics are to blame, but there’s only one Inca rope bridge remaining in the world—and it has to be rebuilt every year. Thousands of Quehue descendants gather near Cusco annually, as they have for more than 500 years, to weave plants from ichu grass into an almost 100-foot crossing over the Apurímac River on the ancient Qhapaq Ñan (Main Andean Road). A three-day ritual celebrating the weave includes traditional dance and food and usually ends on the second Sunday in June.
Longest Vertical-Lift Bridge Span: Arthur Kill Bridge, Staten Island, NY
Length: 558 ft.
The problem: how to connect a train from Elizabethport, NJ, to a marine terminal in Staten Island while still allowing shipping barges to access the busy Port of New York and New Jersey. The solution: a massive vertical-lift bridge that clears the high water mark by 135 feet when open and allows trains to move seamlessly from one state to the other when lowered (usually only three times a day). The 55-year-old bridge now supplants truck traffic on the parallel Goethals Bridge thanks to a recent $72 million renovation.
Longest Stone-Beam Bridge: Anping Bridge, Quanzhou, China
Length: 1.4 miles
Made from long stone beams that rest unmortared on stone piers over an estuary of the Shijing River, the Anping Bridge is one of the world’s oldest bridges, dating back to the 12th-century Song dynasty, and remained China’s longest bridge until 1905. (It’s also known as the Wuli Bridge: literally, “Five Li Bridge,” the li being a traditional Chinese measurement for 500 meters.) The simple yet majestic structure—the world’s longest pedestrian bridge—sits just above the water and is only about 10 feet wide in most parts. Highlights of walking the Anping Bridge include several decorative stone statues and the ornate Shuixin Pavilion, one of five remaining shelters for resting travelers.
Longest Swing Bridge Span: Al-Ferdan Railway Bridge, Ismailia, Egypt
Length: 1,100 ft.
The precarious position of this vital Suez Canal rail crossing has seen the Al-Ferdan Bridge (also Al-Firdan and El-Ferdan) become a frequent casualty of conflict. The first traditional bridge, built in 1918 for the Palestine Military Railway, got in the way of shipping and was removed. A second swing design was built in 1941 and damaged in World War II. In 1954, freight companies welcomed a double swing bridge, till the Second Arab-Israeli War. The latter was replaced in 1964 and subsequently destroyed in the Six-Day War. Today’s gleaming double swing bridge—its sixth iteration, built in 2001—provides the only rail link between Asia and Africa, although most of the time the giant steel arms are rotated open.
Longest Wooden Bridge: U Bein Bridge, Amarapura, Myanmar
Length: 3,960 ft.
Steel corrodes, concrete cracks, so could a wooden bridge actually hold up better than anything built today? Don’t look too closely at the log pilings of the 264-year-old U Bein Bridge and you might believe it. Made almost entirely out of teakwood reclaimed from a former Ava Kingdom palace (allegedly) by the mayor who lent the bridge his name, the three-quarter-mile walkway zigzags 15 feet above mud flats and is resplendent at sunset. Today it remains an important passageway over Taungthaman Lake and is often populated with monks, fishermen, and the ever-more-common Western tourist.
Longest Stressed-Ribbon Bridge: David Kreitzer Lake Hodges Bicycle/Pedestrian Bridge, Escondido, CA
Length: 990 ft.
The wavy shape of San Dieguito River Park’s bicycle and pedestrian bridge isn’t just fancy design; it’s structural: cables are embedded into precast-concrete panels rather than suspended above, giving the decking added stiffness while allowing the grade of each 330-foot span to fluctuate. (Think of it as a demure, yet secretly crazy cousin of the suspension bridge.) As one of only four stressed-ribbon bridges in the Western Hemisphere, and the longest total, the almost five-year-old bridge is just shy in the longest stressed-ribbon span department; that honor goes to South Africa’s Mkomaas River Pedestrian Bridge at 492 feet. sdrp.org
Longest Transporter Bridge Span: Newport Transporter Bridge, Newport, UK
Length: 645 ft.
The transporter bridge is a funny, dying breed. Only two dozen were ever built, all around the turn of the 20th century, and only 11 remain today, with even fewer operational. This has made the South Wales town of Newport very proud of its vintage 1906 “moving bridge”—essentially a suspended ferry across the River Usk. Now a tourist attraction, the behemoth’s two 35-horsepower motors can move up to six cars and 120 passengers on a freight gondola hung on three-inch steel cables from 242-foot-tall towers. Visitors who can stand the height (and the 270-stair climb) are welcome to traverse the walkway nestled inside the bridge’s main girder. newport.gov.uk
Longest Bridge Over Water (Aggregate): Jiaozhou Bay Connection Project, Qingdao, China
Length: 25.84 miles
Guinness had to create a whole new category for the engineering excess of this Shandong province roadway-sea bridge project after the 23.87-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway challenged its “world’s longest” claim—officials took the aggregate length instead. (Only 16.1 miles of it are actually overwater.) But it’s hard to argue that the combo of suspension bridge, cable-stayed bridge, and miles upon miles of beam bridge, plus the world’s first oversea interchange, isn’t impressive. And the calls of corruption and unsafe conditions surrounding its price tag, estimated at almost $9 billion, are titillating. But as goes in China, fame is fleeting: the 31-mile Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge is scheduled to open in 2016.