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A bridge is a structure built to span a physical obstacle (such as a body of water, valley, road, or rail) without blocking the way underneath. It is constructed for the purpose of providing passage over the obstacle, which is usually something that is otherwise difficult or impossible to cross. There are many different designs of bridges, each serving a particular purpose and applicable to different situations. Designs of bridges vary depending on factors such as the function of the bridge, the nature of the terrain where the bridge is constructed and anchored, and the material used to make it, and the funds available to build it.


The earliest bridges were likely made with fallen trees and stepping stones. The Neolithic people built boardwalk bridges across marshland. The Arkadiko Bridge (dating from the 13th century BC, in the Peloponnese) is one of the oldest arch bridges still in existence and use.

The simplest and earliest types of bridges were stepping stones. Neolithic people also built a form of boardwalk across marshes; examples of such bridges include the Sweet Track and the Post Track in England, approximately 6000 years old.[3] Undoubtedly, ancient people would also have used log bridges; that is a timber bridge[4] that fall naturally or are intentionally felled or placed across streams. Some of the first man-made bridges with significant span were probably intentionally felled trees.[5]

The Arkadiko Bridge is one of four Mycenaean corbel arch bridges part of a former network of roads, designed to accommodate chariots, between the fort of Tiryns and town of Epidauros in the Peloponnese, in southern Greece. Dating to the Greek Bronze Age (13th century BC), it is one of the oldest arch bridges still in existence and use. Several intact arched stone bridges from the Hellenistic era can be found in the Peloponnese.[6]

The greatest bridge builders of antiquity were the ancient Romans.[7] The Romans built arch bridges and aqueducts that could stand in conditions that would damage or destroy earlier designs. Some stand today.[8] An example is the Alcántara Bridge, built over the river Tagus, in Spain. The Romans also used cement, which reduced the variation of strength found in natural stone.[9] One type of cement, called pozzolana, consisted of water, lime, sand, and volcanic rock. Brick and mortar bridges were built after the Roman era, as the technology for cement was lost (then later rediscovered).

In India, the Arthashastra treatise by Kautilya mentions the construction of dams and bridges.[10] A Mauryan bridge near Girnar was surveyed by James Princep.[11] The bridge was swept away during a flood, and later repaired by Puspagupta, the chief architect of emperor Chandragupta I.[11] The use of stronger bridges using plaited bamboo and iron chain was visible in India by about the 4th century.[12] A number of bridges, both for military and commercial purposes, were constructed by the Mughal administration in India.[13]

Although large Chinese bridges of wooden construction existed at the time of the Warring States period, the oldest surviving stone bridge in China is the Zhaozhou Bridge, built from 595 to 605 AD during the Sui dynasty. This bridge is also historically significant as it is the world's oldest open-spandrel stone segmental arch bridge. European segmental arch bridges date back to at least the Alconétar Bridge (approximately 2nd century AD), while the enormous Roman era Trajan's Bridge (105 AD) featured open-spandrel segmental arches in wooden construction.[citation needed]

The Ashanti built bridges over streams and rivers.[14][15] They were constructed by pounding four large forked tree trunks into the stream bed, placing beams along these forked pillars, then positioning cross-beams that were finally covered with four to six inches of dirt.[15]

During the 18th century, there were many innovations in the design of timber bridges by Hans Ulrich Grubenmann, Johannes Grubenmann, and others. The first book on bridge engineering was written by Hubert Gautier in 1716.

A major breakthrough in bridge technology came with the erection of the Iron Bridge in Shropshire, England in 1779. It used cast iron for the first time as arches to cross the river Severn.[16] With the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, truss systems of wrought iron were developed for larger bridges, but iron does not have the tensile strength to support large loads. With the advent of steel, which has a high tensile strength, much larger bridges were built, many using the ideas of Gustave Eiffel.[17]

In Canada and the United States, numerous timber covered bridges were built in the late 1700s to the late 1800s, reminiscent of earlier designs in Germany and Switzerland. Some covered bridges were also built in Asia.[18] In later years, some were partly made of stone or metal but the trusses were usually still made of wood; in the United States, there were three styles of trusses, the Queen Post, the Burr Arch and the Town Lattice.[19] Hundreds of these structures still stand in North America. They were brought to the attention of the general public in the 1990s by the novel, movie, and play The Bridges of Madison County.[20][21]

In 1927 welding pioneer Stefan Bryła designed the first welded road bridge in the world, the Maurzyce Bridge which was later built across the river Słudwia at Maurzyce near Łowicz, Poland in 1929. In 1995, the American Welding Society presented the Historic Welded Structure Award for the bridge to Poland.[22]

Bridges may be classified by how the actions of tension, compression, bending, torsion and shear are distributed through their structure. Most bridges will employ all of these to some degree, but only a few will predominate. The separation of forces and moments may be quite clear. In a suspension or cable-stayed bridge, the elements in tension are distinct in shape and placement. In other cases the forces may be distributed among a large number of members, as in a truss.

The world's longest beam bridge is Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in southern Louisiana in the United States, at 23.83 miles (38.35 km), with individual spans of 56 feet (17 m).[25] Beam bridges are the simplest and oldest type of bridge in use today,[26] and are a popular type.[27]

With the span of 220 metres (720 ft), the Solkan Bridge over the Soča River at Solkan in Slovenia is the second-largest stone bridge in the world and the longest railroad stone bridge. It was completed in 1905. Its arch, which was constructed from over 5,000 tonnes (4,900 long tons; 5,500 short tons) of stone blocks in just 18 days, is the second-largest stone arch in the world, surpassed only by the Friedensbrücke (Syratalviadukt) in Plauen, and the largest railroad stone arch. The arch of the Friedensbrücke, which was built in the same year, has the span of 90 m (295 ft) and crosses the valley of the Syrabach River. The difference between the two is that the Solkan Bridge was built from stone blocks, whereas the Friedensbrücke was built from a mixture of crushed stone and cement mortar.[28]

The world's largest arch bridge is the Chaotianmen Bridge over the Yangtze River with a length of 1,741 m (5,712 ft) and a span of 552 m (1,811 ft). The bridge was opened April 29, 2009, in Chongqing, China.[29]

Some Engineers sub-divide 'beam' bridges into slab, beam-and-slab and box girder on the basis of their cross-section.[35] A slab can be solid or voided (though this is no longer favored for inspectability reasons) while beam-and-slab consists of concrete or steel girders connected by a concrete slab.[36] A box-girder cross-section consists of a single-cell or multi-cellular box. In recent years, integral bridge construction has also become popular.

Most bridges are fixed bridges, meaning they have no moving parts and stay in one place until they fail or are demolished. Temporary bridges, such as Bailey bridges, are designed to be assembled, taken apart, transported to a different site, and re-used. They are important in military engineering and are also used to carry traffic while an old bridge is being rebuilt. Movable bridges are designed to move out of the way of boats or other kinds of traffic, which would otherwise be too tall to fit. These are generally electrically powered.[37]

The Tank bridge transporter (TBT) has the same cross-country performance as a tank even when fully loaded. It can deploy, drop off and load bridges independently, but it cannot recover them.[citation needed]

Robert Stephenson's High Level Bridge across the River Tyne in Newcastle upon Tyne, completed in 1849, is an early example of a double-decked bridge. The upper level carries a railway, and the lower level is used for road traffic. Other examples include Britannia Bridge over the Menai Strait and Craigavon Bridge in Derry, Northern Ireland. The Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö consists of a four-lane highway on the upper level and a pair of railway tracks at the lower level. Tower Bridge in London is different example of a double-decked bridge, with the central section consisting of a low-level bascule span and a high-level footbridge.

A multi-way bridge has three or more separate spans which meet near the center of the bridge. Multi-way bridges with only three spans appear as a "T" or "Y" when viewed from above. Multi-way bridges are extremely rare. The Tridge, Margaret Bridge, and Zanesville Y-Bridge are examples.

A bridge can be categorized by what it is designed to carry, such as trains, pedestrian or road traffic (road bridge), a pipeline or waterway for water transport or barge traffic. An aqueduct is a bridge that carries water, resembling a viaduct, which is a bridge that connects points of equal height. A road-rail bridge carries both road and rail traffic. Overway is a term for a bridge that separates incompatible intersecting traffic, especially road and rail.[40] A bridge can carry overhead power lines as does the Storstrøm Bridge.[citation needed] 041b061a72


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