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
imagebroker / Alamy
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
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