France Has World’s Tallest Bridge
While in the Midi-Pyrenees region of France, a glimpse and drive across the Millau Viaduct, the world’s tallest bridge spanning the valley of the river Tarn, is a must.
Say the name of the town “Millau” (pronounced “Mee-oh”) to any Frenchman and invariably you’ll get in response a boastful: “Viaduc de Millau”, as a call championing one of the latest of the nation’s latest civil engineering feats. The “Millau Viaduct”, is a cable-stayed road bridge spanning the Tarn River Valley near the town of Millau in southern France (upper Languedoc). Designed by a French bridge engineer in collaboration with a British architect, it is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world, with one pier’s summit standing at 1,125 feet, slightly higher than the Eiffel Tower and only 125 feet shorter than the Empire State Building. To showcase this architectural wonder, the initial design incorporated a visitor’s center with multimedia exhibits, and throughout the year 500,000 people visit the sit. Have a look : http://www.leviaducdemillau.com/english/index.html
Why and how was the bridge built?
Because of problems with traffic on the route from Paris to Spain along the stretch passing through the Tarn valley near the town of Millau, leading to congestion in the summer from holiday traffic, construction of a bridge to span the valley was required. The first plans were discussed in 1987, and by October 1991 the decision was made to build a high crossing of the Tarn River by a structure of around 2,500 m (8,200 ft) in length.
From 1991 to 1993, the structures division of Sétra (the institute in charge of roads and transportation improvement in France), directed by Michel Virlogeux, carried out preliminary studies and examined the feasibility of a single structure spanning the valley. Taking into account technical, architectural and financial issues, the Administration of Roads opened the question for competition among structural engineers and architects to widen the search for realistic designs. By July 1993, 17 structural engineers and 38 architects applied as candidates for the preliminary studies. With the assistance of a multidisciplinary commission, the Administration of Roads selected eight structural engineers for a technical study and seven architects for the architectural study.
Simultaneously, a school of international experts representing a wide spectrum of expertise (technical, architectural and landscape), chaired by Jean-François Coste, was established to clarify the choices that had to be made. In February 1995, on the basis of proposals of the architects and structural engineers, and with support of the school of experts, five general designs were identified.
On 15 July 1996, Bernard Pons, minister of Public Works, announced the decision of the jury, which was constituted of elected artists and experts and chaired by Christian Leyrit, the director of highways. The solution of a cable-stayed bridge, presented by the structural engineering group Sogelerg, Europe Etudes Gecti and Serf and the architects Foster + Partners was declared the best.
Detailed studies were carried out by the successful consortium, steered by the highways authority until mid-1998. After wind tunnel tests, the shape of the road deck was altered and detailed corrections were made to the design of the pylons. When the details were eventually finalised, the whole design was approved in late 1998.
Proud not only of their agricultural produce, restaurant fare and unrivaled selection of wines, the French can also claim a collection of world-class technical accomplishments, beginning 25 years ago with the TGV high-speed train and extending through the 1990’s with the great Mitterrand buildings in Paris. Many foreign visitors to France actually program into their itineraries a pause from the daily delights of sightseeing, wine-tasting and restaurant-hopping to enjoy such visits of technical prowess, now formally organized under the heading “industrial tourism”.
If you want to ride your bike across the bridge, you can’t! Its an auto route, like the other autoroutes of France, it is a toll road and traffic moves along at 130 km/hr or better. (80+ mph)!!