Bold Bridges Series

“Impossible” Bridge Stands Tall in South of France


In this first installment of the “Bold Bridges” series, we’re looking at a bridge dubbed by naysayers as “impossible.” Yet, with the right architects and civil engineers driving the project, 4,500 vehicles per day now happily pay the toll to use the “impossible.” That’s in the winter. In the summer that figure increases to upwards of 50,000 vehicles per day. As Walt Disney famously said, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” One look at the Millau Viaduct, and we couldn’t agree more.

It’s kind of fun to do the impossible. — Walt Disney

Gridlock versus The Barbarians

By the 1980s, Millau was once again under pressure, but not from the Barbarians. This time, it was due to the massive congestion created by summertime travelers headed from France to Spain. Sick of the annual three-month gridlock nightmare, Millau decided it needed a solution to the traffic problem.

The ecological sensitivity of the river gorge valley, and the river itself, drew decades of debate and a multitude of submissions from architects and engineering firms. Seventeen years after the first sketches were drawn, a low-environmental-impact design was finally chosen.

Saying No to the Opposition

In the south of France, picturesque Millau is no longer plagued with gridlocked traffic in the summer months.

The launching technique advanced the roadway at a rate of 24 inches (600 millimeters) per cycle, with each cycle taking approximately four minutes.

Vital Statistics

Built of concrete and steel, the Millau Viaduct stands impressively tall at just over 1,125 feet (343 meters), making it more than 62 feet (19 meters) taller than the Eiffel Tower.

Pylons P2 and P3 are the tallest pylons in the world at 803 ft, 8 inches (244.96 meters) and 725 ft, 3 inches (221.05 meters) respectively. The mast atop pylon P2 peaks at 1,125 feet (342.9 meters), making the Millau Viaduct the tallest bridge on the planet.

The northern end of the road deck is slowly launched across the pylons. The red pylon was one of the temporary structures that were removed once the road deck was fully installed.

Clever Construction

Two years of research went into finding the ideal formula for the modified bitumen.

Linear Launch

Multiple sensors on the pylons, road deck, masts, and cable-stays constantly monitor the viaduct’s structural health.

Lights, Sensors, Action!

The builders financed the construction in return for the concession to collect the tolls for a period of 75 years.

The Bottom Line

The bridge was officially inaugurated and opened to traffic a month ahead of schedule.

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