The earth is filled with countless gorges, cliffs and canyons and sometimes man needs to get to the other side real quick. So man learned to build bridges. By itself, a bridge is already a marvel of engineering. Bridges built in places where there aren’t supposed to be any is engineering on a totally different scale.
Here are the top 10 highest bridges in the world based on deck height, or the maximum vertical distance from the deck of the bridge to the ground or water surface it crosses over. There are other bridges currently under construction that may yet break their records, but as for now these are the world’s highest bridges.
10. Beipanjiang River Railway Bridge – 902ft (275m)
Currently the world’s highest railway bridge, the Beipanjiang River Railway Bridge carries the track of the Shibui Railway over the Beipanjiang River in Liupanshui, Guizhou province, China. The Beipanjiang (pronounced Bay-Pan-Gee-Ang) means North Winding River, cuts through some of China’s most breathtaking mountain gorges as it cuts through the northwest end of Guizhou Province to the southwest where it is called the Hongshui He river at the border of Guangxi Province.
9. Royal Gorge Bridge – 955ft (291m)
Located in Cañon City, Colorado, U.S.A., this bridge supports a road over the Royal Gorge. The drop from the deck is 955 feet to the ground below and the bridge is 938ft (286m) long. It took six months, or between June 1929 and November 1929, and $350,000 to build this bridge. The cost was defrayed after builders put up a tollbooth on each end. One thing most people don’t know about this bridge is that it was not built to facilitate transport. It was intended to generate tourism and it did just that. It was the world’s highest bridge from 1929 until 2001 when the Liuguanghe Bridge in China took that honor. It’s recently under reconstruction following damage due to a wildfire
8. Zhijinghe River Bridge – 965ft (294m)
Connecting the towns of Yesanguan and Dazhiping in Badong County Hubei Province, China, this bridge is also the highest arch bridge in the world. Opened in 2009, this was also the world’s highest tunnel-to-tunnel bridge before 2012 when it lost the record to the Aizhai Bridge. The 1,410ft (430m) long Zhijinghe River Bridge carries the G50 Shanghai–Chongqing Expressway through a tunnel, across the valley of the Zhijinghe River, into another tunnel on the opposite side. Tunnel-to tunnel-bridges are considered somewhat of a thrill ride; drivers or commuters come out of the relative darkness of the tunnel into a bridge over a view, in this case a spectacular one, before being plunged into the darkness of another tunnel again.
7. Liuguanghe Bridge – 974ft (297m)
It was this bridge in Liu Guangzhen, Guizhou, China, that took the record of world’s highest bridge from Royal Gorge Bridge after it opened in 2001, but it also lost that record with the opening of the Beipanjiang River 2003 Bridge in 2003. Named after a nearby town , the bridge is 790 feet (240m) long and supports a road for normal vehicular traffic, in 2008 the toll booths on both ends were finally removed and suddenly tourists started pouring in, leading to the establishment of a small food village on the southeast side. The tourism has also increased the traffic and the bridge and its connecting highways often suffer from traffic jams. The big trucks that use this route over the mountains are not helping the situation any, prompting calls to add two more lanes to the connecting highways. There has been no word if renovations will be carried out.
6. Beipanjiang River 2009 Bridge – 1,043ft (318m)
Not to be confused with the Beipanjiang River 2003 Bridge which will join our list later, the 2009 bridge is part of the of the G60 Shanghai–Kunming Expressway crossing the Beipanjian River. Opened in 2009, the bridge, located at Qinglong, Guizhou Province, China, has a length of 2,087 feet (636m) and a deck height of 1,043ft (318m). It is a suspension bridge supporting a road for normal traffic.
5. Aizhai Bridge – 1,150 ft (350m)
With a length span 3,858 ft (1,176m) and a deck height of 1,150 from the valley below, this bridge in Jishou, Hunan Province, China, is also a tunnel-to-tunnel bridge, and, as mentioned before, somewhat of another thrill ride. It took $208 million to build this bridge, which was started in October 2007 and completed in 2011 ahead of schedule. Commuters and passengers passing the bridge can enjoy the view during the day, but after dark the almost 2,000 lights on the bridge transform it into an attraction, it has been described as akin to a shaft of light bridging two mountains. Now that we have mentioned thrills, in September 2012, the Aizhai Bridge was the site of an international BASE jumping festival where more than 40 jumpers from 13 countries participated.
4. Beipanjiang River 2003 Bridge – 1,201ft (366m)
This became the world’s highest bridge after taking the crown from Liuguanghe Bridge but also lost it to the Hegigio Gorge Pipeline Bridge in 2005. Located in Xingbeizhen, Guizhou Province, China, this suspension bridge has a deck height of 1,201 feet and a length 1,273 ft (388 m). The bridge is an attraction for tourists and convenient parking spaces are available at both sides of the span. The bridge itself has a walkway for foot traffic. To those keeping count, this is the third bridge spanning the Beipanjiang in our list. No other river in the world has three of the world’s highest bridges spanning it. Apparently the government is not through just yet; a fourth crossing is planned for a highway between Kunming and Bijie just near the railway bridge.
3. Balinghe River Bridge – 1,210 ft (370m)
With the height of 1,210 ft the Balinghe River Bridge in Guanling County, Guizhou Province, it third on our list. It was the length of 3,570 ft (1,088m) that builders took into consideration when they built it. The 1,088 meter length span was reportedly to make the bridge lucky. Chinese hold the figure ‘8’ lucky because in Mandarin it sounds like the word for “prosperity.” Opened in 2009, this bridge is part of the G60 Shanghai–Kunming Expressway between Kunming and Guiyang. In July 2012 the Balinghe River Bridge was the location for the 2012 China Bridge Parachuting International Challenge where 30 BASE jumpers from 15 different countries participated in the event.
2. Hegigio Gorge Pipeline Bridge – 1,289ft (393m)
This was the world’s highest bridge from 2005 to after taking the record from the Beipanjiang River 2003 Bridge, but it is relatively unknown perhaps because it neither a supports a road nor a railway but rather a petroleum pipeline. Located deep in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, the pipeline bridge was built by the construction company Kellogg Brown & Root to carry petroleum over the deep limestone gorge of the Hegigio River to the refineries of several companies. The entire pipeline itself is 10 miles long from source to refinery but the span that stretches across the Hegigio gorge is only 1,540ft (470m). This is not some bridge people can just go and look at. Permission from one of the companies using the pipeline must be obtained first. This is usually followed by a grueling 435 mile (700 km) trek through harsh jungle terrain. It lost the record in 2009 when the Sidu River Bridge opened.
1. Sidu River Bridge – 1,627 ft (496 m)
With a deck height of 1,627 feet and a length span of 1,627 feet (496m) the Sidu River Bridge, located in Badong County, Hubei, China, is the reigning highest bridge in the world. The area it spans is so remote that when it was built, engineers could not use a helicopter to drag the pilot lines across. They decided to shoot it across one side of the river to the other with a rocket. Without the bridge, travel to Shanghai on the Pacific coast with the cities of Chongqing and Chengdu in the west would take an extra day through dangerous mountain roads, or five hours by river boat which is a safer choice.
This bridge also has the unique distinction of being the only bridge in the world where anything falling from the deck can reach terminal velocity, that is the speed at which a falling object will no longer accelerate, before it hits the bottom.
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