More than 66,000 bridges in the United States need repair or replacement due to structural deficiency and erosion, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Civil engineers are paving the way for innovative new bridge construction techniques to incorporate more sustainable materials and technology that can improve bridge lifespan. These bridges of the future will be better equipped to support the people and vehicles that use them.
The Rolling Bridge is a pedestrian bridge on an inlet at the Grand Union Canal in London. Designed by Thomas Heatherwick in 2004, the bridge features an innovative design involving a unique rolling movement as an alternative to a drawbridge. Whereas bridges that open to let boats pass have typically featured single-section elements that separate and lift, the Rolling Bridge uses a coiled octagonal structure that methodically uncurls into a traditional straight bridge, allowing pedestrians to walk across the canal while the bridge expands and contracts to accommodate boat passage. The Rolling Bridge won several awards, including the Structural Steel Award and the Emerging Architecture Award.
Across the River Thames in London spans the largest solar-powered bridge in the world. Covered with 4,400 photovoltaic solar panels affixed to its roof, the Blackfriars Bridge provides half of the energy for the adjoining Blackfriars rail station. According to First Capital Connect, the solar installation could reduce the carbon emissions of London’s Blackfriars railway and public transit station by approximately 511 tons per year. Solarcentury, the firm responsible for installing the solar panels, developed the bridge as a source of renewable energy and an inspiration to other cities in their efforts to become sustainable.
Bridge designers in The Netherlands created the tail bridge as a solution to the high levels of boat traffic in local waterways passing under bridges that must lift and lower over small rivers. The tail bridge is able to raise and lower from one pylon, as opposed to the multiple hinges that are common on larger drawbridges. Fast-moving tail bridges, such as Slauerhoffbrug in Leeuwarden, can quickly move out of the way for passing boats while only briefly impeding road traffic.
The Millau Viaduct is one of the world’s tallest bridges, with its highest tower measuring 1,125 feet above the ground. This marvel is a record-breaking feat of bridge architecture, spanning 1.55 miles across the valley of the Tarn River in France. A visually stunning bridge, it is composed of eight cable-stayed spans that provide a direct motorway route from Paris to Barcelona.
Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge
This bridge in Boston is the world’s widest cable-stayed bridge, designed to transport 10 lanes of traffic. The only cable-stayed bridge in the U.S. considered a hybrid for its use of both steel and concrete, it stretches 1,432 feet long, enabling access to and from Boston from the north. In addition to its innovative design, the bridge has special symbolic meaning: It is named after civil rights activist Leonard P. Zakim and is dedicated to the Americans who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution. Christian Menn, a bridge architect from Switzerland, designed the bridge with towers in the shape of inverted Ys, mirroring the Bunker Hill Monument in nearby Charlestown.
The Tullhus Bridge in Norrköping, Sweden, was designed by the architectural firm Erik Andersson Architects. It boasts a unique creative feature that is designed to keep cyclists and pedestrians warm during the cold Swedish winters. A hot-air system built into the bridge is equipped to melt ice and snow and heat the walkway only. The use of heated air and a custom hourglass-shaped design keeps the bridge slim. An LED lighting system built into the handrails also illuminates the walkway at night. The snow-free bridge keeps cyclists and pedestrians safe while providing them access to the city center.
Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Crossing
Also known as the Sixth Crossing, this future planned bridge in Dubai will be the longest arch bridge in the world, with a total length of 1.6 kilometers, or 5,200 feet. This ambitious structure will have 12 lanes — six in each direction. The Dubai Metro Green Line will run through the center of the bridge, allowing for as many as 20,000 vehicles and 23,000 metro passengers to cross per hour.
Modern engineering feats made possible by advanced technology and inventions are at the heart of these seven futuristic bridges. With sustainable materials, renewable energy sources, and passionate visionary thinking, these modern civil engineering accomplishments can inspire the next generation of engineers who are fascinated with building the future.
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heatherwick.com, Rolling Bridge
theguardian.com, World’s largest solar-powered bridge opens in London
popularmechanics.com, “Strange Architecture: Bridge Design in the Netherlands”
twistedsifter.com, The Tallest Bridge in the World [20 pics]
engineering.com, “Is China the Supreme Leader in Bridges?”
Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MASSDOT)
erikandersson.format.com, The Tullhus Bridge
roadtraffic-technology.com, “Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Crossing”