A Bridge So Far


By Teri Sota

Last June, four of the six longest bridges in the world opened — all of them in China. The 26.4 mile Qingdau Haiwan Bridge is now the lengthiest over-water span, extending more than three miles beyond Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain Causeway (previous record-holder). The three other bridges are part of the Beijing-Shanghai High Speed Railway and China’s ongoing mega-billion investment in infrastructure.

The Qingdau Haiwan connects the bustling port city of Quindau, in eastern Shandong Province, with the offshore island of Huangdau. With a growth rate of 16 percent per annum, Quindau is one of China’s fastest-growing cities. It is home to the Chinese Navy and Tsingtau Beer, and was the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympic sailing events. The city is also a popular tourist destination, boasts beautiful beaches and attained “most livable city” status in 2009. Drivers of the 30,000 daily, toll-assessed cars can now save half an hour commuting from the island to the city.

Construction of the Qingdau Haiwan Bridge was extraordinarily quick. In just four years, 10,000 laborers — working in teams around the clock — erected 5,200 columns from 2.3 million cubic meters of concrete. Four hundred-fifty tons of steel, the equivalent of 65 Eiffel Towers, were utilized as work progressed from opposite ends toward the middle. Strong economic growth and a favorable production base enable China to reign as the world’s largest consumer of steel.

Much of the employed bridge-building technology is patented. The engineering marvel is not only earthquake- and typhoon-proof, but also able to “withstand the impact of a 300,000-ton vessel” (The Guinness Book of World Records). At the opening ceremony, Quindau’s Communist Party Secretary heralded the many (estimates vary widely) billion dollar bridge as “magnificent and very advanced … and another stepping stone in the city’s smooth and rapid development.”

Currently, a 31-mile span linking Zhuhai (southern coast of Guangdong province) and Hong Kong is under way. The $10 billion project is expected to open in 2016, and will also help connect, build prestige and relieve congestion in the world’s most populated country.

Classroom Discussion

  • What are some of the many earth science considerations when building a bridge?
  • How long can the lengthiest bridge be? What are the limitations/drawbacks to building super spans?