American Grand Spans
5 of the country’s most fascinating bridges
By M.B. Roberts
There’s just something about bridges. Especially really big bridges. The enormous, sweeping marvels of engineering that cross rivers and valleys and take our breath away are part of American culture and lore.
Lucky for us, we don’t have to settle for admiring these grand spans from afar. With a little attention to rules of the road and bridge-specific restrictions, truckers are welcome to traverse these mighty crossings and enjoy the view from above.
Golden Gate Bridge • Picture Perfect • goldengatebridge.org
This instantly recognizable American icon, arguably the most photographed bridge in the world, towers high above the Golden Gate Straight (the Pacific Ocean’s entrance to the San Francisco Bay), linking San Francisco on the northern tip of the San Francisco Peninsula to Marin County. The orange vermilion modern marvel took more than four years to build and opened to traffic on May 28, 1937.
At the time, the 1.7 mile-long (total), 746-foot-high, six-lane Golden Gate was the longest suspension bridge (so named for the two main towers known as the suspended span) in the world, but it has since been surpassed by eight other such bridges, four of them in China. New York’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge is the only U.S. suspension bridge longer than the Golden Gate, beating its California cousin’s mid-span measurement of 4,200 feet by 60 feet when it opened in 1964. Even so, there’s only one Golden Gate.
Hoover Dam Bypass • Soaring Arch • hooverdambypass.org
Although at 1,053 feet, Colorado’s Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado is higher, the newly-opened 1,900-foot-long, 900-foot-high Hoover Dam Bypass designed by T.Y. Lin International engineers is the longest soaring concrete arch in the Western Hemisphere. And the Hoover Dam views are truly spectacular.
This imposing concrete-steel composite arch bridge links the brown and red rocky cliffs of Nevada and Arizona by providing a crossing for U.S. Route 93 over the Colorado River, resulting in a significantly shorter and faster trucking route from Las Vegas to Phoenix. Some 17,000 cars and trucks cross the bridge daily, and not to worry — the $114 million structure should withstand earthquakes and winds at any speed.
Lake Pontchartrain Causeway • Long Gone • louisiananorthshore.com
Described in bridge terms as a low-level trestle with mid-span bascule, the Causeway links Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, with Mandeville, La. It is actually comprised of two different bridges, the 23.87-mile northbound and the 23.86-mile southbound spans.
The two spans, completed in 1956 and 1969 respectively, sit 80 feet apart with seven emergency crossovers connecting them high above the clams, oysters and other skillet fish swimming in Lake Pontchartrain. Some 9,500 concrete pilings support the Causeway, where drivers report that halfway across, the horizon disappears and the only view is water in every direction.
Mackinac Bridge • The High Road • mackinacbridge.org
In the early 20th century, traveling between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsula, involved crossing the often turbulent Straits of Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) by boat or ferry. Then, in 1954, after decades of starts and stops, the largest bridge construction fleet in history was assembled and the Mackinac Bridge (also called the Mackinac Straights Bridge or “Mighty Mac”) opened for business just over three years later, in May 1957.
This steel superstructure suspension bridge boasts a main span (between towers) of 3,800 feet, making it currently the 12th longest in the world. Like all suspension bridges, Mighty Mac is designed to move to accommodate the wind as well as changes in temperature or weight. Under severe conditions, the deck at center span moves as much as 35 feet east or west.
Seven-Mile Bridge • Water, Water Everywhere
The Florida Keys is a chain of some 1,700 islands, many of which are connected by the scenic 127-mile Overseas Highway. Because it crosses over water in many parts, the highway includes numerous bridges, the most scenic and historic being the Seven-Mile Bridge, which connects Knight’s Key (in the Middle Keys) to Little Duck Key (in the Lower Keys). The bridge actually measures 6.79 miles, but who’s counting?
When it was completed in 1912, the Seven-Mile Bridge, which was originally built to support oil tycoon Henry Flagler’s railroad, was named the Eighth Wonder of the World.
In its early years, the bridge was a swing bridge, meaning part of the structure literally swung out on its center, allowing for boats over 20-feet high to pass.
Today, the bridge no longer swings, (it was rebuilt in 1982), but it is still a wonder.
The Brooklyn Bridge • Not for Sale
Even though it no longer allows commercial and hence, truck traffic, how do you say “bridge” without thinking Brooklyn? With a main span of 1,595.5 feet, this National Historic Landmark with the distinctive Gothic towers was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was dedicated in 1883. Numbers aside, the Brooklyn Bridge has long inspired artists, poets, writers, photographers, musicians, tourists and regular old New Yorkers for more than 130 years.