Bridges may be one of the oldest forms of construction, but the last few decades have seen incredible innovations, says Judith Dupré, author of the updated Bridges: A History of the World’s Most Spectacular Spans (Black Dog & Leventhal, $29.99). Since the first edition of her book was published 20 years ago, cable-stayed bridges, which use towers to directly support a roadway, have begun to rival suspension bridges for crossing long spans, she says. In addition, bridges are getting splashier with LED lighting and striking designs. “Engineers are coming up with solutions,” she says. “They are unsung heroes.” She shares some new favorites with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.
Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory
Engineer Linda Figg spent hours talking to midcoast Maine residents, and learned about their pride for their granite, which was used for the Washington Monument. That led her to model a 420-foot bridge tower after the D.C. obelisk, even including a viewing area at the top. It opened in 2006 as the tallest public observatory on a bridge. “It really recast the long and important history of the place,” Dupré says. Observatory open seasonally.
Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge
This concrete-arch Colorado River bridge opened in 2010, about 1,500-feet downstream from the Hoover Dam. It was meant to bypass the dam road, addressing traffic, security and safety concerns. “It takes its inspiration from the dam and has a structure that’s really monumental,” Dupré says.
Lucky Knot Bridge
This pedestrian crossing of the Dragon King Harbor River combines several foot-bridges in a colorful red steel span that seems to dance across the water. Opened in 2016, it doesn’t appear to have a beginning or end — a thrilling sequence of stairways and moon gates, Dupré says. “It’s an example of creating a crossing that was needed, and designing a landmark.”
Laguna Garzón Bridge
Architect Rafael Viñoly combines a roundabout with a bridge to make a doughnut-shaped crossing in the middle of a coastal lagoon. It slows traffic, increases safety and has fewer support columns, a plus for marine life, Dupré says. “The cars above are moving freely, and so are the fish below.”
Almost completely destroyed in World War II, Rotterdam has been a laboratory of modern architecture and urban design. This light-blue steel span, completed in 1996, is a combination cable-stayed bridge, viaduct and drawbridge. It has a single asymmetrical pylon, leading to its nickname: The Swan. “It’s a landmark that ties the city together,” Dupré says.
This footbridge across Haiti’s flood-prone Grand’Anse River has been a literal lifeline for villagers since opening in 2015, serving more than 40,000 people per year. It’s one of hundreds of pedestrian crossings that the Denver-based non-profit group Bridges to Prosperity has helped fund around the world. “These are being built in areas where access to a footbridge can be the difference between life and death, allowing access to markets and hospitals,” Dupré says.
The East Span, which opened in 2013, replaced a crossing damaged by the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, and is now one of the world’s widest bridges. The retrofitted West Span has a claim to fame too: It’s the world’s largest light art installation, illuminated by 25,000 individually programmed LEDs. “The bridge is an engineering feat, as well as an aesthetic triumph,” Dupré says.
Jammu and Kashmir, India
Although it won’t be completed until 2020, Dupré calls this span heroic, showing the can-do spirit of workers and engineers, who are laboring in a disputed region. “It’s going to be the world’s tallest railway bridge, and one of the longest.” Due to the remote location in northern India, supplies arrive piecemeal by truck on windy mountain roads.
Da Nang, Vietnam
This six-lane span puts on a show, changing colors and spitting fire and water from a dragon head, making it an instant landmark when it opened in 2013. “Until the advent of LED lighting it would not have been economically feasible,” Dupré says.
Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge
Dupré says this pedestrian bridge in a national park was built purely for fun. The glass-bottom span crosses over a gorge, nearly 1,000 feet deep. When it opened in 2016, it attracted such crowds that it had to close briefly to add facilities for visitors. “People were so eager to scare themselves to death,” she says.