There is certainly no shortage of famous bridges in the USA. Indeed, some have become authentic symbols of the USA: take the Golden Gate Bridge, for example, the majestic suspension bridge that has become the symbol of San Francisco; or the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, the first bridge in the world to be constructed of steel; or the incredibly long Mackinac Bridge, linking the upper and lower peninsulas of the State of Michigan and spanning the strait at a length of over 8 kilometres. Here we take a look at the highest bridges in the USA, their history and characteristics.
The height of bridges: how it is calculated
In these rankings, the phrase ‘height of bridge’ does not refer to the structural height of the engineering work, or the height of any pylons or end towers that the bridge may have: the measurement referred to is the maximum distance between the bridge deck, that is the road level, and the lowest point in the valley it spans, typically the surface of the river below.
The 10 highest bridges in the USA
Let us find out the top ten bridges in America in terms of their height, concentrating on the 10 highest bridges in the United States.
1 – Royal Gorge Bridge, 1929, Colorado, 291 metres
This was the highest bridge in the world from the year of its construction, 1929, until 2001, when the Liuguanghe Bridge was inaugurated in China. Nowadays the Royal Gorge Bridge is mainly a tourist attraction. Yet it is without doubt the highest bridge in the United States of America, spanning the canyon formed by the Arkansas River. It is a suspension bridge, with a central span of 286 metres, a total length of 285 metres and a height of 291 metres. Built between June and November 1929, it is only 5.5 metres wide, and features 46-metre-high towers to support the cables. The structure is built of steel, while the surface is covered with 1,292 wooden planks.
2 – Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, 2010, Arizona / Nevada, 274 metres
This bridge crosses the Colorado River, between Arizona and Nevada, south east of Las Vegas. The second highest bridge in the USA is dedicated to a governor of Nevada, Mike O’Callaghan, and the Arizona Cardinals player Pat Tillman, who was killed in a military operation in Afghanistan. The bridge is also known as the Hoover Dam Bypass because it enabled traffic to bypass the road along the top of the Hoover Dam. Construction on the bridge began in 2005, and the work was completed in 2010, with the bridge being opened to traffic in October of that year. It is an arch bridge, the first to be constructed in concrete and steel in the United States, and it is a total of 579 metres long.
3 – New River Gorge Bridge, 1977, West Virginia, 267 metres
The third highest bridge in the United States can be found in West Virginia. At a height of 267 metres, it is a steel arch bridge, and for 26 years it was the bridge with the widest single span in the world (518 metres). The construction of the bridge was necessary in order to reduce the time it took to cross the gorge by car: while previously it took 45 minutes, it now takes just 45 seconds. Construction took place between 1974 and 1977; in 2013 the bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
4 – Foresthill Bridge, 1973, California, 222 metres
The fourth highest bridge in the United States is located in eastern California, over the North Fork American River, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. At 222 metres high, and 740 metres long, it has also become famous as an exceptional point from which to view the American River Canyon. Inaugurated in 1973, it underwent renovation work between 2011 and 2015: while the first bridge cost 13 million dollars to build, the renovation work cost 74 million.
5 – Glen Canyon Dam Bridge, 1959, Arizona, 213 metres
Taking us to the halfway point in the top ten highest bridges in the USA is the Glen Canyon Dam Bridge, built in 1959. This steel arch bridge is 287 metres long and it was built to span the Colorado River, 213 metres below; at the time of its construction, it was heralded as the highest arch bridge in the world. The main objective was to aid the construction of the nearby dam.
6 – Phil G. McDonald Bridge, 1988, West Virginia, 172 metres
The sixth bridge in the rankings of the highest bridges in the USA is in West Virginia. It was named after a US soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam; the local people also refer to it as Glade Creek Bridge. It cost 29 million dollars, and was officially opened to traffic in 1988. It is 172 metres high, and 664 metres long.
7 – Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, 1965, New Mexico, 172 metres
Opened in 1965, this spectacular steel arch bridge has appeared in many US films. In 1966 it was awarded “Most Beautiful Steel Bridge” by the American Institute of Steel Construction.
8 – Perrine Bridge, 1976, Idaho, 148 metres
Spanning the Snake River at a height of 148 metres, this steel arch bridge is a favourite location for fans of BASE jumping. It was opened to traffic in 1976, and crosses the gorge with a length of 457 metres.
9 – Navajo Bridge, 1929, Arizona, 143 metres
This name actually refers to two steel bridges: a historic bridge built between 1927 and 1929 and a new bridge that was constructed alongside the old one and was completed in 1995. The first bridge is now closed to vehicle traffic but is still used by pedestrians. The second, which is now the main bridge, is 277 metres long.
10 – Moyie River Canyon Bridge, 1965, Idaho, 141 metres
To conclude our rankings of the highest bridges in the USA is the Moyie River Canyon Bridge in Idaho, built in the 1960s to replace an old bridge constructed further downstream in the 1920s. It is 373 metres long and is built entirely of steel.