Enabling us to cross rivers, mountain streams, deep gorges, whole valleys or even lakes or stretches of sea, bridges are definitely some of the most fascinating of all engineering works. And they continue to fascinate us, for the simple reason that every so often the records are broken and new ones set, in terms of length, height of the structure, height from the valley floor, maximum distance between pylons, and so on.
How is the height of a bridge measured
Before looking at the rankings for the highest bridges in the world, it would be useful to throw some light on what is meant by the height of a bridge. The term can be used to indicate different measurements, but the three main ones are:
– the distance between the road level of the bridge and the river – or lake, stream, or valley below;
– the height of the structure itself, thus including any towers there may be (in the case of cable-stayed bridges);
– the height of the bridge’s tallest pylon.
In our rankings of the highest bridges, we mean the space between the road level of the bridge and the lowest point of the gorge below, in other words, the dizzying distance that a weight would fall if it were dropped from the horizontal surface of the bridge to the “furthest” point in the valley.
The top ten highest bridges in the world
So let’s take a look at the rankings of the highest bridges in the world, which is dominated by China, reflecting the country’s construction boom in recent years aimed at developing fast connections between the various parts of the country.
1- Duge Bridge, 565 metres, China
As indicated above, the record for the highest bridge is currently held by the Duge Bridge in China, also known as the Beipanjiang Bridge. It is a cable-stayed bridge constructed to span the river Beipan, at a height of 565 metres above the river. With a length of 1,340 metres, this motorway bridge was completed in 2016, with the construction of 10 spans (including the central one of 720 metres). The highest bridge in the world has two pylons for the suspension of the cables, which are 269 and 246 metres above ground respectively.
2- Sidu River Bridge, 496 metres, China
The second highest bridge in the world is also in China, in the province of Hubei. It is 1,222 metres long, and its deck is 496 metres above the surface of the Si Du River. The bridge was inaugurated in 2009, and has 7 spans over the gorge, with the central one alone crossing a distance of over 900 metres. In this case it is not a cable-stayed bridge but a suspension bridge, with vertical cables and towers on either side.
3- Puli Bridge, 485 metres, China
The third highest bridge in the world was constructed in 2015 in the province of Yunnan. The height of the bridge deck is 485 metres above the river Puli. In this case, too, the bridge is a suspension bridge, with a total length of 1,040 metres, and a central span of 628 metres. Apart from its size, this bridge is also easily recognizable for its bright yellow support towers.
4- Jin’an Bridge, 461 metres, China
This is the most recent of the works listed in our top 10 highest bridges in the world. Built in 2020, this suspension bridge is also in the province of Yunnan, and crosses the river Jinsha at a height of 461 metres, with a total length of 1,681 metres, and a main span of 1,386 metres.
5- Yachi River Bridge, 434 metres, China
In fifth place in the rankings of the highest bridges in the world we find another cable-stayed bridge, again in China, in the province of Guizhou. With a total length of 1,466 metres, it passes 434 metres above the river Yachi. It was built in 2016 and has 15 spans altogether, including the central span that is 800 metres long. The pylons at either end are 258 and 242 metres above ground respectively.
6- Qingshui River Bridge, 406 metres, China
At 406 metres above the river below, this bridge was built in 2014 in the province of Guizhou, and extends for a total length of 2,188 metres.
7- Baluarte Bridge, 390 metres, Mexico
This is the only bridge in our rankings of the 10 highest bridges in the world that is not in China. The Puente Baluarte is a cable-stayed bridge built between the cities of Concordia and Pueblo Nuevo, between 2008 and 2012. It has an overall length of 1,124 metres, with the road deck at 403 metres above the valley below, making it the highest bridge in America and the highest bridge in the world outside China.
8- Liuguanghe Xiqian Expressway Bridge, 375 metres, China
This bridge was constructed in 2013 in Guizhou province: it is 375 metres high, with a total length of 1,280 metres.
9- Baling River Bridge, 370 metres, China
At a height of 370 metres, the Bailing River Bridge was completed in 2009. The 2,237-metre-long bridge is suspended 370 metres above the Bailing River.
10 – Beipan River Guanxing Highway Bridge, 388 metres, China
The tenth in the rankings of the highest bridges in the world is the Beipan River Guanxing Highway bridge, built in 2003, with a height of 366 metres. At the time of its construction, it was greeted as the highest bridge in the world.
The highest bridges in Europe and Italy
Having looked at the ten highest bridges in the world and established that the rankings are dominated by China, with the only one outside China being in Mexico, it may be interesting to compare these bridges with some of the highest bridges in Europe and Italy. The highest bridge in Europe is the Millau viaduct, in France, a cable-stayed bridge 2,460 metres long, built in 2004: it crosses the valley of the Tarn River, and is still considered the highest bridge in the world in terms of the structure (which reaches 336 metres in height). But if you measure the height of the road deck from the valley floor, the bridge is “only” 277 metres, making it the 30th highest bridge in the world.
As for Italy, the highest bridge is the Italia viaduct, inaugurated in 1969, at a height of 259 metres above the river Lao, which made it the highest vehicle bridge in Europe until 2004. Today it is in 37th place in the world rankings.