Beipanjiang 2003 Bridge

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Beipanjiang River 2003 Bridge
北盘江特大桥
Huajiang, Guizhou, China
1,201 feet high / 366 meters high
1,273 foot span / 388 meter span
2003
World's Highest Bridge 2003-2005


The highest bridge in the world upon its opening in late 2003, the 1,201 foot (366 mtr) high Beipanjiang River 2003 highway bridge became the second Chinese span in just two years to take this honor. The first was 2001’s Liuguanghe bridge. In addition, the Beipanjiang became the first bridge to break the 1,000 foot and 300 meter height thresholds as well as the first suspension bridge in the world to surpass the height of Colorado’s Royal Gorge bridge after a 74-year reign. The bridge is also the second of 3 Beipanjiang River crossings to have been among the world’s 10 highest. The first was the 902 foot high (275 mtr) Beipanjiang railway bridge which opened in 2001 and will remain the highest train bridge in the world until 2015 when India’s Chenab River bridge is due to open. The third bridge to cross high above the Beipanjiang opened in 2009 on the Guiyang to Kunming Highway with a suspension span 1,080 feet (330 mtrs) above the river.

The 3 bridges are spaced about 50 miles apart from each other. No other river on earth outside China has more than one high bridge over it - the Beipanjiang has 3! If that is not incredible enough, a fourth crossing is planned for a highway between Kunming and Bijie in the vicinity of the railway bridge. To keep the names from becoming confusing, I refer to this bridge entry as the Beipanjiang River 2003 bridge while the 4-lane highway bridge located to the north I refer to as the Beipanjiang River 2009 bridge.

The word Beipanjiang (pronounced Bay-Pan-Gee-Ang) translates into North Winding River with the word “bei” meaning north and “pan” meaning winding. Cutting a huge swath from the northwest end of Guizhou Province to the southwest where it becomes the Hongshui he river at the border of Guangxi Province, the Beipanjiang River traverses through some of China’s most spectacular mountain gorges. When China began to expand its road and railway system in the 1990s, the river became the biggest obstacle between the city of Guiyang and the city of Kunming. The river also proved to be the biggest barrier between the mountain city of Xingyi and Guiyang. So when it was decided to build a modern two lane highway from Xingyi to the Guiyang highway, an extremely high and narrow bridge site was chosen near the town of Huajiang.

The Beipanjiang River bridge was one of 4 medium sized suspension bridges that were designed and built in the same time period by the Major Bridge Reconnaissance Design Institute in Wuhan, Hubei. The bridges all share common traits including an extremely thin 2 foot (.6 mtr) thick prestressed concrete slab deck and cable suspenders just 16 feet (5 mtrs) apart. Since all 4 bridges were of similar length and in similar gorge settings, it was economical and efficient to design them at the same time. The other 3 include the Azhihe, Xixi and Luojiaohe bridges. All four are among the world’s 60 highest bridges. One modification made to the Beipanjiang 2003 that was not made to the other 3 spans was the addition of a curved wind breaker along the edge of the deck. Painted blue, it makes the bridge deck look even thinner and lighter than it already is.

Despite its fall from the top spot among China’s highest spans, the Beipanjiang 2003 bridge is still the most vertigo inducing of all with cliffs that plummet into a void that seems to have no bottom. The cliff beneath the west side of the bridge is nearly vertical for 800 feet (244 mtrs). No other high bridge in the world has such an abyss-like drop-off. The narrow crevasse is so deep it also had the unique distinction of making the Beipanjiang the world’s first “10 second bridge”. What, you may ask, is that? It is a bridge so high that an object falling from the deck will be in free fall for more than 10 seconds before hitting the water. The bridge is perfect for tourists with pedestrian friendly parking areas on both sides of the gorge as well as walkways along the edges of the span.

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