Three ‘Modern’ Bridges
One of the most beautiful bridges in the world spans the Seine River estuary just before the Seine River empties into the English Channel. It is called the Pont de Normandie, and it links the charming fishing port Honfleur on the left bank with the very industrial shipping port of Le Havre on the right bank. It is one of the must-see highlights of Upper Normandy. If you have an excuse to cross it, do not hesitate, and if it requires a slight detour, it is worth the effort.
It is a cable-stayed bridge that, when it was completed in 1994, was the longest of its type in the world. Cables from its two towers angle down on both sides to the deck on either side. That is distinct from a suspension design where cables would be suspended vertically to the decks below from a larger cable that would run over and between the towers. The middle deck itself is 856 meters long, but if you count the approaches, the total length is a remarkable 2141 meters.
It was constructed by the Bouygues Industrial group in a project that took over seven years to complete. Indeed, that group invented and patented its construction design. It crosses the Seine river at a height of 50 meters, and therefore does not interfere with the shipping on the river. It can withstand winds of up to 180 kilometres per hour, and it carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, in addition to a separate pedestrian path and a cycle path. Pedestrians and cyclists cross free of charge, whereas drivers currently pay a substantial toll of 5,40 €.
Seen from a distance, the bridge appears with an ethereal air of elegance and lightness. If you are fortunate to see it at sunset, with the cables reflecting golden sunlight, it takes on a magic veil-like appearance that is truly out of this world. Even in humdrum ordinary day-light, I cannot help but feel a sense of wonder and elation each time I cross it.
France has had a long history of being at the fore-front of bridge technology, extending as far back as the Roman era, when the Pont du Gard in Provence was built (and is still standing). One of its first modern pioneers was none other than Gustave Eiffel. Indeed, his order book for structures and bridges of all sorts (roads and railroads) was so full that he did not want to be bothered with submitting a proposal for the world fair of 1889 to erect the wrought iron monument in Paris for which he is best remembered today.
For bridge connoisseurs, however, Eiffel is equally remembered for his beautiful and bold Garabit Viaduct, which was completed in 1884, and which is a wrought iron railway arch bridge in the Cantal department. Because Eiffel’s company had previously successfully built the Maria Pia bridge over the Douro river in Porto, Portugal, where the requirements were identical, his company was awarded the Garabit contract. Its main span is 565 metres long.
Not far from Cantal, you can admire the Millau Viaduct, which is also a cable-stayed bridge that is similar in appearance to the Pont de Normandie. However, it is taller at 343 metres, 23 more than the Eiffel Tower itself, and it is actually the tallest structure in France at this time. It also has an impressive length: 2460 metres.
There are several tie-ins among some of the structures mentioned in this article: the Eiffel Tower and the Garabit Viaduct were constructed by Eiffel’s Compagnie des Etablissements Eiffel. The Millau Viaduct was built by the Compagnie Eiffage de Viaduc de Millau. Eiffage is a descendant of Eiffel’s company. Moreover, Dr. Michel Viriogeux designed the Pont de Normandie and he was the structural engineer for the Millau Viaduct. One of often astonished by the inter-connections of what is remarkable in France.