China has constructed the world’s longest single-tower suspension bridge, completed on schedule thanks to some robot helpers, according to engineers.
Nestled high in the mountains of the country’s south-eastern hills, the half-mile Luzhijiang bridge cuts travel times between major cities in the Yunnan region significantly.
One of many belt and road initiative projects underway in the region, the bridge forms part of an expressway that promises to improve travel conditions between China and several southeast Asian countries, including Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar.
China’s belt and road development strategy came into effect in 2013 and is the focal point of President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy.
The initiative calls for China to assume a more proactive role in global affairs. ‘Belt’ refers to the much-travelled Silk Road, a string of roads and railways running from China to Europe through central Asia.
The ‘road’ is a reference to the maritime Silk Road, a broad web of maritime trade routes that occupy the Indo-Pacific region, Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
The new world-record holding bridge was submitted to a final eight-day stress test where a fleet of trucks laden with 1 280 tonnes of cargo drove up and down the length of the 800-metre overpass.
Travel times between Yuxi and Chuxiong, two Chinese cities separated by a series of ravines and mountains, have been slashed from 90 minutes to roughly two minutes, according to the South China Morning Post.
Chinese officials hope the bridge will promote cross-border cooperation and boost economic activity in the region. Yuxi has a thriving tobacco industry and Chuxiong has some of the world’s richest dinosaur fossil deposits.
The bridge’s single support tower is an engineering marvel, supporting the weight of the structure as it spans a valley 300 metres above the ground.
Construction began in 2019 but the Covid-19 outbreak slowed construction, threatening the project’s three-year deadline. Despite overwhelming odds, engineers managed to complete the bridge on time, with some help from some very hard-working robots.
One of the most time-consuming and laborious stages in bridge building is anchoring the bridge to the mountainside with thick steel cables. Drilling 100 metres into the rockface can take years and workers have to deal with the very real possibility of land and mudslides.
Specialised tunnelling robots sped up the anchoring process significantly. In four months, every anchor point had been secured at 54 degrees, an angle that increases structural integrity.
China now hosts the first and second longest single-tower bridges – the previous record holder is the Jinshajiang Hutiaoxia Bridge on the Tibet-Beijing expressway.