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Bridge facts for kids

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RhB Ge 4-4 II Wiesener Viadukt
Wiesen Viaduct in the canton of Grisons, Switzerland
Firth unsplash 2
Bridge in the Verdon Gorge, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, in Southern France
For other meanings of "bridge" see bridge (disambiguation)

A bridge is a structure to cross an open space or gap. Bridges are mostly useful for crossing rivers, valleys, or roads by vehicles but people have also used bridges for a long time for walking. Bridges called highway overpasses are used to avoid traffic control.

Pont d'arcades de Móra d'Ebre (Ribera d'Ebre, Catalonia)
Bridge crossing river d'Ebre, Catalonia.

Bridges also have uses in the military. Military bridges have to be portable, so that they may be easily moved to the front lines, and so they are much more complex than regular civilian bridges.


Pont mycénien de Kazarma 2
The Arkadiko Bridge in Greece (13th century BC), one of the oldest arch bridges in existence
Brug 119 in de Lijnbaansgracht over de Bloemgracht foto 1
Bridges in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The simplest type of a bridge is stepping stones, so this may have been one of the earliest types. 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. Undoubtedly, ancient people would also have used log bridges; that is a timber bridge 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.

Among the oldest timber bridges is the Holzbrücke Rapperswil-Hurden crossing upper Lake Zürich in Switzerland; the prehistoric timber piles discovered to the west of the Seedamm date back to 1523 BC. The first wooden footbridge led across Lake Zürich, followed by several reconstructions at least until the late 2nd century AD, when the Roman Empire built a 6-metre-wide (20 ft) wooden bridge. Between 1358 and 1360, Rudolf IV, Duke of Austria, built a 'new' wooden bridge across the lake that has been used to 1878 – measuring approximately 1,450 metres (4,760 ft) in length and 4 metres (13 ft) wide. On April 6, 2001, the reconstructed wooden footbridge was opened, being the longest wooden bridge in Switzerland.

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.

The greatest bridge builders of antiquity were the ancient Romans. The Romans built arch bridges and aqueducts that could stand in conditions that would damage or destroy earlier designs. Some stand today. 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. 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. A Mauryan bridge near Girnar was surveyed by James Princep. The bridge was swept away during a flood, and later repaired by Puspagupta, the chief architect of emperor Chandragupta I. The use of stronger bridges using plaited bamboo and iron chain was visible in India by about the 4th century. A number of bridges, both for military and commercial purposes, were constructed by the Mughal administration in India.

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.

Rope bridges, a simple type of suspension bridge, were used by the Inca civilization in the Andes mountains of South America, just prior to European colonization in the 16th century.

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. 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.

West Montrose Covered Bridge (Oct. 2018)
The covered bridge in West Montrose, Ontario, Canada

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. 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. 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.

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.

Types of bridges

Bridges can be categorized in several different ways. Common categories include the type of structural elements used, by what they carry, whether they are fixed or movable, and by the materials used.

Structure types

Bridges may be classified by how the actions of tension, compression, bending, torsion and shear are distributed through their structure.

BeamBridge-diagram.svgBeam bridge
Beam bridges are horizontal beams supported at each end by substructure units and can be either simply supported when the beams only connect across a single span, or continuous when the beams are connected across two or more spans. When there are multiple spans, the intermediate supports are known as piers.

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). Beam bridges are the simplest and oldest type of bridge in use today, and are a popular type.

TrussBridge-diagram.svgTruss bridge
A truss bridge is a bridge whose load-bearing superstructure is composed of a truss. This truss is a structure of connected elements forming triangular units.
CantileverBridge-diagram.svgCantilever bridge
Cantilever bridges are built using cantilevers—horizontal beams supported on only one end. Most cantilever bridges use a pair of continuous spans that extend from opposite sides of the supporting piers to meet at the center of the obstacle the bridge crosses.

The largest cantilever bridge is the 549-metre (1,801 ft) Quebec Bridge in Quebec, Canada.

ArchBridge-diagram.svgArch bridge
Arch bridges have abutments at each end. The weight of the bridge is thrust into the abutments at either side. The earliest known arch bridges were built by the Greeks, and include the Arkadiko Bridge.

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.

TiedarchBridge-diagram.svgTied arch bridge
Tied-arch bridges have an arch-shaped superstructure, but differ from conventional arch bridges. Instead of transferring the weight of the bridge and traffic loads into thrust forces into the abutments, the ends of the arches are restrained by tension in the bottom chord of the structure. They are also called bowstring arches.
SuspensionBridge-diagram.svgSuspension bridge
Suspension bridges are suspended from cables. The earliest suspension bridges were made of ropes or vines covered with pieces of bamboo. In modern bridges, the cables hang from towers that are attached to caissons or cofferdams. The caissons or cofferdams are implanted deep into the bed of the lake, river or sea.

The longest suspension bridge in the world is the 3,909 m (12,825 ft) Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan.

CableStayedBridge-diagram.svgCable-stayed bridge
Cable-stayed bridges, like suspension bridges, are held up by cables. However, in a cable-stayed bridge, less cable is required and the towers holding the cables are proportionately higher. The first known cable-stayed bridge was designed in 1784 by C. T. (or C. J.) Löscher.

The longest cable-stayed bridge since 2012 is the 1,104 m (3,622 ft) Russky Bridge in Vladivostok, Russia.

Fixed or movable bridges

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, and 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.

Double-decked bridges

George Washington Bridge from New Jersey-edit
The double-decked George Washington Bridge, connecting New York City to Bergen County, New Jersey, US, is the world's busiest bridge, carrying 102 million vehicles annually.

Double-decked (or double-decker) bridges have two levels, such as the George Washington Bridge, connecting New York City to Bergen County, New Jersey, US, as the world's busiest bridge, carrying 102 million vehicles annually; truss work between the roadway levels provided stiffness to the roadways and reduced movement of the upper level when the lower level was installed three decades after the upper level. The Tsing Ma Bridge and Kap Shui Mun Bridge in Hong Kong have six lanes on their upper decks, and on their lower decks there are two lanes and a pair of tracks for MTR metro trains. Some double-decked bridges only use one level for street traffic; the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis reserves its lower level for automobile and light rail traffic and its upper level for pedestrian and bicycle traffic (predominantly students at the University of Minnesota). Likewise, in Toronto, the Prince Edward Viaduct has five lanes of motor traffic, bicycle lanes, and sidewalks on its upper deck; and a pair of tracks for the Bloor–Danforth subway line on its lower deck. The western span of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge also has two levels.

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 viaduct is made up of multiple bridges connected into one longer structure. The longest and some of the highest bridges are viaducts, such as the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway and Millau Viaduct.

Multi-way bridge

Tridge Undercarriage
The Tridge is a type of multi-way bridge

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.

Bridge types by use

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. A bridge can carry overhead power lines as does the Storstrøm Bridge.

Some bridges accommodate other purposes, such as the tower of Nový Most Bridge in Bratislava, which features a restaurant, or a bridge-restaurant which is a bridge built to serve as a restaurant. Other suspension bridge towers carry transmission antennas.

Conservationists use wildlife overpasses to reduce habitat fragmentation and animal-vehicle collisions. The first animal bridges sprung up in France in the 1950s, and these types of bridges are now used worldwide to protect both large and small wildlife.

Bridge types by material

Ironbridge 6
The Iron Bridge completed in 1781 was the first cast iron bridge.
Kraemerbruecke und Aegidienkirche Erfurt 2017
Krämerbrücke in Erfurt, Germany – with half timbered buildings
Stone bridge, Othoni island
Small stone bridge, Othonoi, Greece

The materials used to build the structure are also used to categorize bridges. Until the end of the 18th century, bridges were made out of timber, stone and masonry. Modern bridges are currently built in concrete, steel, fiber reinforced polymers (FRP), stainless steel or combinations of those materials. Living bridges have been constructed of live plants such as Ficus elastica tree roots in India and wisteria vines in Japan.

Bridge type Materials used
Cantilever For small footbridges, the cantilevers may be simple beams; however, large cantilever bridges designed to handle road or rail traffic use trusses built from structural steel, or box girders built from prestressed concrete.
Suspension The cables are usually made of steel cables galvanised with zinc, along with most of the bridge, but some bridges are still made with steel-reinforced concrete.
Arch Stone, brick and other such materials that are strong in compression and somewhat so in shear.
Beam Beam bridges can use pre-stressed concrete, an inexpensive building material, which is then embedded with rebar. The resulting bridge can resist both compression and tension forces.
Truss The triangular pieces of truss bridges are manufactured from straight and steel bars, according to the truss bridge designs.

Military bridge

Tank bridge transporter of the United States Army. These are mobile bridges; tanks and other vehicles can use them to cross certain obstacles.

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.

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