MILLAU, France--When faced with a problem--a significant missing link on one of the major north-south highways out of Paris--the French came up with the perfect solution: build the tallest bridge in the world. Called the Millau Viaduct, because it spans the Tarn River just outside this small French town not too far from Clermont-Ferrand, this massive bridge towers 1,125 feet above the Tarn Valley--and by the way, cuts 37.3 miles off the drive from Paris to Perpignan in the south.
But little things like less driving and less cost--since taking the A75 (the autoroute that includes the Millau Viaduct) saves drivers about $21 in tolls versus what was required to go from Paris to Perpignan prior to the bridge's opening in 2004--are just details when you look at this bridge from just about any of the many different viewing spots. It's gigantic, beautiful, graceful, and, yes, it is the tallest bridge in the world.
CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited the Millau Viaduct as part of Road Trip 2011.
For years before the Millau Viaduct opened for traffic in late 2004, teams were working on the idea of completing the missing link on the A75 autoroute that connects Paris in the north to Perpignan in the south. The first sketches were made in 1987, with each proposing a bridge that spanned the Tarn Valley, though some had the crossing east of Millau, while others had it to the west.
In 1994, the decision was made to locate the bridge just a few kilometers west of Millau. And in 1996, the bridge design by Michel Virlogeux of Ponts et Chaussees and architecture by Norman Foster was selected. According to the official Millau Viaduct Web site, "A multi-stay cabled construction will be seen on the Aveyron skyline. Its aesthetic aspect and integration into the countryside attracted the government departments. It took preference over four other potential projects: a bridge of constant thickness, a variable thickness bridge, a viaduct with stays stretched under the deck, and a construction with one single arch."
In December 2001, the first stone for the Millau Viaduct was laid.
In this photograph, the bridge is seen from just in front and to the east.
In this archival photograph, the Millau Viaduct is seen under construction. It opened to traffic in late 2004.
According to the bridge's official Web site, it is 8,071 feet long, 105 feet wide, 1,125 feet tall (which makes it 62 feet taller than the Eiffel Tower), and cost about $562 million to build. It has seven towers, and 154 stays--11 pairs per tower pylon.