The viaduct of Millau – the highest bridge in the world
There is a stunning engineering and design marvel in France – the famous Viaduc de Millau (in the French original Viaduc de Millau). This is the highest road bridge at least in Europe, and at most in the world (it all depends on some technical aspects of the definition of a particular height). It is built with a cable-stayed system – that is, the bridge actually hangs in the air, but is supported by a special structure of rigid supports and flexible steel cables.
Where is the Millau Bridge
Viaduct can be seen 4 kilometers southwest of the town of Millau (hence the name of the bridge) in the south of France in the Occitania region. It runs over the valley of the river Tarn and is part of the final section of the A75, connecting Paris with the city of Beziers on the Mediterranean coast.
The viaduct of Millau is a fantastic sight. The bridge looks very light and airy. Its length is 2 460 meters. It has 2 lanes of traffic in both directions. The total width is 32 meters, the equivalent of 17 adult men with outstretched arms, as shown in the picture below.
The width of the Millau Bridge for comparison
The bridge is astounding in its size. As much as 343 meters in height, which is 19 meters higher than the famous Eiffel Tower. It should be noted that this is the absolute height of the largest pylon together with the pylon.
A small technical digression: The pylon is what goes BEFORE the bridge from below, and the pylon is the upper part BEFORE the bridge.
Diagram of the Millau viaduct.
The maximum height of the roadway is 270 meters above the valley and its thickness is 4.2 meters.
The viaduct is built using cable-stayed technology and is supported by 7 pylons ranging in height from 77 to 245 meters. Each of the pylons is installed in 4 wells 15 meters deep and 5 meters in diameter.
The height of all the pylons is the same – 87 meters. Each pylon has 11 pairs of heavy-duty steel cables, each capable of withstanding a load of 900 to 1,200 tons (depending on the length, the shorter the cable, the heavier the load it can carry). There are 154 cables in all. Such reserve of strength is justified, since the weight of the steel frame of the road is 36,000 tons (and this is four times more than the weight of the Eiffel Tower).
The Millau Bridge is not straight but has a slight bend in the horizontal plane with a radius of about 20 km, as well as a slope of 3.025% from south to north.
Do not miss the steepest street in the world. The slope is so steep that it is extremely dangerous to lose your balance there. The bridge has eight spans. The outer ones are 204 meters long, and the other six are 342 meters long. During construction there were used 85,000 cubic meters of concrete with a total weight of 206,000 tons, while the total weight of the bridge is about 290,000 tons.
The estimated daily traffic flow is up to 25,000 vehicles. The builder gives 120 years warranty on the viaduct.
Cost of works and concession agreement
The total cost of the project is 400 million euros. To attract funds, the French government decided on a concession contract.
The company Eiffage won the tender and financed the construction in exchange for the right to collect tolls for 75 years, until 2080 (this is the principle of the concession). But, if the concession becomes a high return, the French government could take over the management of the bridge sooner.
History of the Millau viaduct
The construction of the A75 and the viaduct became necessary due to the increase in traffic on Route No9. Usually in the summer there was a lot of congestion on it, because this route was chosen by most travelers seeking to neighboring Spain.
Before the bridge of Millau was put into operation, all cars were passing through the town of the same name and periodically created a traffic collapse there. And this both dissatisfied local residents and increased pollution. In addition, large traffic jams practically nullified all the advantages of the A75.
Initially, four options for completing the section of the A75, but ultimately opted for the construction of the bridge near the town of Millau.
The development and implementation of the project was entrusted to engineer Michel Virloo (France) and architect Noman Foster (England).
Sequence of events
- The initial sketches are developed in 1987
- In autumn 1991 a decision is made about the exact location of the bridge
- The cable-stayed technology of its construction was approved in July 1996
- The final approval of the concession took place in October 2001
- The ceremonial laying of the so-called “foundation stone” took place on December 14, 2001
- In January 2002, construction of the foundations for the piers began, and in September of the same year, the decking of the bridge was installed
- The piers were completed in November 2003.
- The roads on the southern and northern sides came into contact on May 28, 2004, and the joining of the roads was announced immediately, although in fact it took several days more.
- The raising of the pylons was completed in midsummer 2004
- Testing of the bridge under load of 920 tons started in November 2004
- The inauguration ceremony was held on December 14, 2004, with the participation of Jacques Chirac (then president of the country). But the bridge was opened for traffic only 2 days later. It is noteworthy that the bridge was opened earlier (it was planned to be opened on January 10, 2005).
Technical features of the Millau Bridge
Such a stunning structure has many interesting technical solutions and features.
Special attention should be paid to the steel cables – cable stays. The metal rope has a triple protection against rusting.
- galvanic treatment
- coating with protective wax compound
- additional polyethylene extruded coating
On the outer surface of the ropes along the entire length are special ridges in the form of a spiral. This is done to prevent water from running off over them quickly. Without this technology, strong vibrations in the cables are possible, especially in rain and strong winds.
The viaduct of Millau – a bridge above the clouds
The steel frame of the roadway is covered by a special type of asphaltic concrete. It took two years of research to find the optimal formula for a pavement based on a mineral resin.
The material turned out to be soft enough to adapt to the deformations of metal without creating cracks. But it also satisfied traditional requirements for the road surface, such as resistance to wear, tire traction, density, and lack of ruts and rutting.
A total of 9,000 tons of special asphalt concrete and 1,000 tons of standard asphalt concrete were used.
Electrical and safety systems
Such a gigantic structure contains dozens of kilometers of various electrical cables. There are as much as 30 km of high-voltage cables, 20 km of fiber optic cables and 10 km of low-current cables. The viaduct has 357 telephone points located in different parts of the bridge. This is done for quick communication of the service teams both with the control center and among themselves.
The Millau Viaduct is literally studded with various sensors and tracking systems for monitoring the condition of the bridge. All of this monitoring equipment is designed to monitor the slightest fluctuations and shifts of the entire structure and its individual sections. Instruments measure temperature, slope changes, wind speed and direction, and a host of other parameters.
As many as 12 strain gauges measure deformation on the largest pylon. They are able to catch the shift literally in the micrometer. And there are up to 100 measurements per second. All data about the condition of the viaduct is sent to the control center located near the toll plaza.
Is the Millau Bridge really the tallest?
The viaduct has plenty of competitors. There are structures much taller and wider, but each has its BUTs. Mostly it’s measurement methods and technical features.
For example, in Colorado (one of the U.S. states) there is the Royal Gorge Bridge (in the original Royal Gorge Bridge). It runs at a height of 321 meters relative to the ground, BUT it is a pedestrian-only bridge.
Now the Miyo Bridge is inferior in height to the road directly to the Chinese bridge on the Siduhe River. Its height is 472 meters above the gorge. The supports of this bridge, as well as the other highest bridges, are situated on the hills, not at the bottom of the gorge. But the viaduct of Millau has its supports right at the bottom of the gorge. From a structural point of view, therefore, it is the Millau Bridge that has the right to carry the title of the highest bridge in the world.
Consider the other remarkable bridges of the planet. For example the Gölchtalbrücke, the largest brick bridge on earth. Or Vasco da Gama Bridge, which is recognized as the longest bridge in Europe.
Best places to see the Millau Viaduct
Of course, such a landmark bridge is clearly visible from afar, but there are places from which it looks most spectacular.
Cape Coast Brunas
A great overview of the viaduct and its surroundings. Take the D 992 towards Albi/Toulouse from the town of Millau. At the village of Crisselles, turn onto Rue Brunas and walk 5 km along the narrow road to the viewpoint.
About one kilometer in a straight line west of the village of Saint-Georges-de-Lusenson there is an observation deck with an excellent view of the Millau Bridge. Follow the signs for Albi/Toulouse to Saint-Georges de Lusenson. Then follow the signs to the Louzenson lookout.
The village of Peyret.
It is located on the banks of the River Tarn just 2 kilometers west of the viaduct. Go there from the town of Millau on the D 41.
Recreation area on the northern edge of the Millau Viaduct
This observation deck offers unusual views of the bridge. From the town of Millau, take road RD991 northbound. At the Berger traffic circle, 7 km from the town of Millau, take exit 4 toward the recreation area. Then walk about 500 meters south.
This bridge now stands on the site of the “old bridge” (Pont Vieux) washed away by a flood in 1758. From here you have an excellent view of the viaduct of Millau. Especially at sunset. This vantage point lies not far from the city center.
The Beffroy de Millau Terrace
This is the bell tower known as the Tower of the Kings of Aragon. The octagonal tower from the 17th century rises 42 meters above the center of the old city. Visits are open from mid-June to mid-September. For more information, visit the Millo Tourist Center, located across from the tower.
Millau Viaduct and Sports
The bridge is not designed for pedestrians, but races do take place over it.
In December 2004 19,000 runners were able to run on the bridge, but only as far as the first pylon. They were not allowed to go any further because the bridge was still closed to traffic.
May 13, 2007 – 10,496 runners did cross the Millau Viaduct. The total distance of the race was 23.7 kilometers Since then, every 2 years, races are held here, during which the bridge is closed to traffic for 3-4 hours.
- The viaduct of Millau is the only section on the entire length of the high-speed road A75 toll-free. Fares range from 3.9 euros for motorcycles, 6 euros for cars and up to 28.9 euros for heavy trucks
- 4 km north of the viaduct, near the village of Saint-Germain, there is only one toll booth along the A75. Here are also the buildings of the maintenance and operation group of the bridge, the parking lot and the toilet. The total cost of this complex is 20 million euros
- The second pylon on the north side, codenamed P2, is the highest in the world. Its height is 245 meters – The tallest pylon+pylon construction. The P2 pylon plus the pylon plus the thickness of the roadbed, resulting in a combined height of 343 meters – The tallest roadbed above the ground – 270 meters. True, this record has now been surpassed by several other bridges
- In 2018, the Michelin Green Guide awarded a maximum of 3 stars to Viad Millau. This is similar to Michelin restaurant stars, but only in the area of attractions
- Every day about 50 people are on constant duty on the viaduct. This is maintenance, repair, security and toll collection
- In 2006 the Millau Bridge received the award for Outstanding Structure from the International Association of Bridge and Structural Engineering
- Technically, the Millau viaduct can be closed in case of extremely high winds, but in practice this has never happened before
- Emergency telephones for emergency communication are located every 500 meters
- A postage stamp was issued to mark the opening of the Millau viaduct.
To learn more about the viaduct, watch the following video. Ignore the Millau signature. It is simply a literal translation of the French name of the Millau bridge.
The Millau Viaduct in France is the highest bridge on the planet
Since December 14, 2004 the bridge over the Tarn River was opened and is still in operation today, which was named Millau. The viaduct was named after a town located nearby in the south of France in the department of Averon. The viaduct of Millau is structurally the highest bridge in the world, with the longest pillar.
The construction of the viaduct
Millau is a cable-stayed bridge. It consists of 7 pylons on which the pylons are installed. The cables (cables) from each pylon support the roadway.
The length is 2 460 m. It crosses the entire Tarn valley, which is characterized by a difficult climate and landscape.
The maximum height from the ground surface to the roadway is 270 m. The maximum height from the ground surface to the peak of the pylon is 343 m.
The highest bridge on the planet has a width of 32 m. This allowed four-lane traffic, two in each direction, as well as two redundant lanes. The metal, but relatively light roadway (36,000 tons) is covered with special asphalt concrete.
The 7 pylons, each 88.92 m high, are on pylons sunk 15 m into the ground. The height of the pylons varies because of the different heights of the valley landscape. It varies from 77.56 m to 245 m.
The structure uses 154 cables, with 22 on each pylon. The cables are corrosion-protected by electroplating, waxing and encasing in polyester.
The bridge is equipped with sensors that allow to register every deviation and every shift with micrometer accuracy. Also telephony and communication allows the viaduct maintenance personnel to perform their functions promptly at any point on the viaduct.
The bridge bed has a 3.0025% gradient, north-south elevation, and a curvature with a radius of 20 km. This is done for the best visibility for drivers
Facts about the Millau Viaduct
- The viaduct passes through the river Tarn, whose valley is characterized by a harsh climate and varied terrain.
- Construction took three years and was completed on December 14, 2004, ahead of schedule.
- The authors of this construction are architects Michel Varloo and Norman Foster.
- The highest point of the bridge is 343 meters from ground level, this is the peak of the pylon. It is higher than the Eiffel Tower in Paris (324 m) and only 40 m lower than the Empire State Building in New York.
- The bridge has the highest pylon in the world at 246.96 m. The previous record belonged to the Tull & Verrier viaduct – 141 m (also over the Tarn River).
- The pylon support height of 343 m is also a world record.
- The Viaudk Millau has the highest roadway in the world – 270 m from the ground. Next to it in this title is Royal Gorge Bridge (USA), the roadbed of which is located at a height of 321 m, but it is a pedestrian bridge.
- Viaduct connects Paris and southern France, becomes part of the route to the Mediterranean Sea, Spain, Portugal, as well as in northern Europe.
- Viaduct Millau is the highest bridge on the planet from a structural point of view – the height from the ground to the roadway – 270 m, and to the peak of the pylon – 343 m. But there are bridges that are higher from the ground than the Millau. For example, the bridge over the Siduhe River (China) – from the ground 472 m. However, its pores are not located at the bottom of the gorge and are on the nearest hills, plateaus and other elevations. And the piers of Miyo are directly at the bottom of the gorge. Siduhe is the highest bridge in the world in terms of the gap between the roadway and the ground. Miyo is the highest bridge pylon in the world.
A panoramic view of the Miyo viaduct.
Construction began on October 16, 2001. During the first three years the foundation was laid and all the supports were installed.
On February 25, 2003, builders began to set the roadbed. Using hydraulic jacks controlled via satellite, the deck was advanced through the supports at a speed of about 150 mm/minute. During construction the deck was held on temporary supports. On May 28, 2004, the alignment of the roadbed was completed.
At the end of the same year all seven pylons were lifted, the surfacing with asphalt concrete began, and the temporary supports were completely dismantled. In November 2004 tests were conducted.
The highest bridge on the planet was inaugurated by President Jacques Chirac on December 14, 2004. On December 16 at 9 a.m. the crossing was opened for traffic. It was considerably earlier than the initial deadline of January 10, 2005. On December 18, when the bridge was already in operation the last finishing work was completed.