Millau Viaduct

Viaduc de Millau  (French)
A view of the Millau Viaduct in 2005.
Coordinates44°04′46″N 03°01′20″E / 44.07944°N 3.02222°E / 44.07944; 3.02222Coordinates: 44°04′46″N 03°01′20″E / 44.07944°N 3.02222°E / 44.07944; 3.02222
Carries4 lanes of the A75 autoroute
CrossesGorge valley of the river Tarn
LocaleMillau-Creissels, Aveyron, France
Official namele Viaduc de Millau
Maintained byCompagnie Eiffage du Viaduc de Millau[1]
DesignMultiple-span cable-stayed viaduct motorway bridge[1]
MaterialConcrete, steel
Total length2,460 m (8,070 ft)[1]
Width32.05 m (105.2 ft)[1]
Height336.4 m (1,104 ft) (max pylon above ground)[1][2]
Longest span342 m (1,122 ft)[1]
No. of spans204 m (669 ft),
6×342 m (1,122 ft),
204 m (669 ft)[1]
Clearance below270 m (890 ft)[1][3]
Design life120 years
DesignerDr Michel Virlogeux, structural engineer[1]
Constructed byCompagnie Eiffage du Viaduc de Millau[1][2][3][4]
Construction start16 October 2001; 20 years ago (2001-10-16)[1]
Construction cost 394,000,000[2]
Opened16 December 2004, at 09:00 hrs[1]
Inaugurated14 December 2004; 17 years ago (2004-12-14)[1]
Tollfrom  8.30

The Millau Viaduct (French: Viaduc de Millau, IPA: [vja.dyk də]) is a multispan cable-stayed bridge completed in 2004 across the gorge valley of the Tarn near (west of) Millau in the Aveyron department in the Occitanie Region, in Southern France. The design team was led by engineer Michel Virlogeux and English architect Norman Foster.[2][3][4] As of September 2020, it is the tallest bridge in the world, having a structural height of 336.4 metres (1,104 ft).[1]

The Millau Viaduct is part of the A75[4]A71 autoroute axis from Paris to Béziers and Montpellier. The cost of construction was approximately  394 million ($424 million).[2] It was built over three years, formally inaugurated on 14 December 2004,[1][2] and opened to traffic two days later on 16 December.[5] The bridge has been consistently ranked as one of the greatest engineering achievements of modern times, and received the 2006 Outstanding Structure Award from the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering.[6][7][8][9]


In the 1980s, high levels of road traffic near Millau in the Tarn valley were causing congestion, especially in the summer due to holiday traffic on the route from Paris to Spain. A method of bypassing Millau had long been considered, not only to ease the flow and reduce journey times for long-distance traffic, but also to improve the quality of access to Millau for its local businesses and residents. One of the solutions considered was the construction of a road bridge to span river and gorge valley.[10] The first plans for a bridge were discussed in 1987 by CETE, and by October 1991 the decision was made to build a high crossing of the Tarn by a structure of around 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) in length. During 1993–1994, the government consulted with seven architects and eight structural engineers. During 1995–1996, a second definition study was made by five associated architect groups and structural engineers. In January 1995, the government issued a declaration of public interest to solicit design approaches for a competition.[11]

In July 1996 the jury decided in favour of a cable-stayed design with multiple spans, as proposed by the SODETEG consortium led by Michel Virlogeux, Norman Foster and Arcadis.[12][13] The decision to proceed by grant of contract was made in May 1998; then in June 2000, the contest for the construction contract was launched, open to four consortia. In March 2001, Eiffage established the subsidiary Compagnie Eiffage du Viaduc de Millau (CEVM), and was declared winner of the contest and awarded the prime contract in August.[14][1]

Possible routes

The four proposed routes for the new A75 autoroute around Millau
The four proposed routes for the new A75 autoroute around Millau

In initial studies, four potential options were examined:[citation needed]

  1. Great Eastern (French: grand Est) (yellow route) – passing east of Millau and crossing the valleys of the Tarn and Dourbie on two very high and long bridges (spans of 800 and 1,000 metres or 2,600 and 3,300 feet) whose construction was acknowledged to be problematic.[citation needed] This option would have allowed access to Millau only from the Larzac plateau, using the long and tortuous descent from La Cavalerie. Although this option was shorter and better suited to through-traffic, it did not satisfactorily serve the needs of Millau and its area.
  2. Great Western (French: grand Ouest) (black route) – longer than the eastern option by 12 kilometres (7.5 mi), following the Cernon valley. Technically easier (requiring four viaducts), this solution was judged to have negative impacts on the environment, in particular on the picturesque villages of Peyre and Saint-Georges-de-Luzençon.[citation needed] It was more expensive than the preceding option, and served the region badly.
  3. Near RN9 (French: proche de la RN9) (red route) – would have served the town of Millau well, but presented technical difficulties,[clarification needed] and would have had a strong impact on existing or planned structures.[citation needed]
  4. Intermediate (French: médiane), west of Millau (blue route) – was supported by local opinion, but presented geological difficulties, notably on the question of crossing the valley of the Tarn. Expert investigation concluded that these obstacles were not insurmountable.[citation needed]

The fourth option was selected by ministerial decree on 28 June 1989.[15] It encompassed two possibilities:

  1. the high solution, envisaging a 2,500-metre-long (8,200 ft) viaduct more than 200 metres (660 ft) above the river;
  2. the low solution, descending into the valley and crossing the river on a 200-metre-long (660 ft) bridge, then a viaduct of 2,300 metres (7,500 ft), extended by a tunnel on the Larzac side.

After long construction studies by the Ministry of Public Works, the low solution was abandoned because it would have intersected the water table, had a negative impact on the town, cost more, and lengthened the driving distance. The choice of the 'high' solution was decided by ministerial decree on 29 October 1991.[15]

After the choice of the high viaduct, five teams of architects and researchers worked on a technical solution. The concept and design for the bridge was devised by French designer and structural engineer Michel Virlogeux. He worked with the Dutch engineering firm Arcadis, responsible for the structural engineering of the bridge.[16]

Choosing the definitive route

Satellite image of the proposed route before construction of the bridge
Satellite image of the proposed route before construction of the bridge

The 'high solution' required the construction of a 2,500-metre-long (8,200 ft) viaduct. From 1991 to 1993, the structures division of Sétra, directed by Virlogeux, carried out preliminary studies, and examined the feasibility of a single structure spanning the valley. Taking into account technical, architectural, and financial issues, the Administration of Roads opened the question for competition among structural engineers and architects to widen the search for realistic designs. By July 1993, seventeen structural engineers and thirty-eight architects applied as candidates for the preliminary studies. With the assistance of a multidisciplinary commission, the Administration of Roads selected eight structural engineers for a technical study, and seven architects for the architectural study.

Choice of technical design

Simultaneously, a school of international experts representing a wide spectrum of expertise (technical, architectural, and landscape), chaired by Jean-François Coste, was established to clarify the choices that had to be made.[citation needed] In February 1995, on the basis of proposals of the architects and structural engineers, and with support of the school of experts, five general designs were identified.[citation needed]

The competition was relaunched: five combinations of architects and structural engineers, drawn from the best candidates of the first phase, were formed; each was to conduct in-depth studies of one of the general designs. On 15 July 1996, Bernard Pons, minister of Public Works, announced the decision of the jury, which was constituted of elected artists and experts, and chaired by Christian Leyrit, the director of highways. The solution of a multiple-span viaduct cable-stayed bridge, presented by the structural engineering group Sogelerg, Europe Etudes Gecti and Serf, and the architects Foster + Partners was declared the best.[citation needed]

Detailed studies were carried out by the successful consortium, steered by the highways authority until mid-1998. After undergoing wind tunnel tests, the shape of the road deck was altered, and detailed corrections were made to the design of the pylons. When the details were eventually finalised, the whole design was approved in late 1998.[citation needed]


Once the Ministry of Public Works had taken the decision to offer the construction and operation of the viaduct as a grant of contract, an international call for tenders was issued in 1999. Five consortia tendered:[citation needed]

  1. Compagnie Eiffage du Viaduc de Millau (CEVM), a new subsidiary created by Eiffage;
  2. PAECH Construction Enterprise, Poland;
  3. a consortium led by the Spanish company Dragados, with Skanska, Sweden, and Bec, France;
  4. Société du Viaduc de Millau, including the French companies ASF, Egis Projects, GTM Construction, Bouygues Travaux Publics, SGE, CDC Projets, Tofinso, and the Italian company Autostrade;
  5. a consortium led by Générale Routière, with Via GTI (France) and Cintra, Nesco, Acciona, and Ferrovial Agroman (Spain).

Piers were built with Lafarge high performance concrete. The pylons of the Millau Viaduct, which are the tallest elements (the tallest pylon – 244.96 metres (803.7 ft)) were produced and mounted by PAECH Construction Enterprise from Poland.[citation needed]

The Compagnie Eiffage du Viaduc de Millau, working with the architect Norman Foster, was successful in obtaining the tender.[1] Because the government had already taken the design work to an advanced stage, the technical uncertainties were considerably reduced. A further advantage of this process was to make negotiating the contract easier, reducing public expense, and speeding up construction, while minimising such design work as remained for the contractor.[citation needed]

All the member companies of the Eiffage group had some role in the construction work. The construction consortium was made up of the Eiffage TP company for the concrete part, the Eiffel company for the steel roadway (Gustave Eiffel built the Garabit viaduct in 1884, a railway bridge in the neighbouring Cantal département), and the Enerpac company[17] for the roadway's hydraulic supports. The engineering group Setec has authority in the project, with SNCF engineering having partial control.[clarification needed] Appia (company) [fr] was responsible for the job of the bituminous road surface on the bridge deck, and Forclum (fr) for electrical installations. Management was handled by Eiffage Concessions.[citation needed]

The only other business that had a notable role on the building site was Freyssinet, a subsidiary of the Vinci Group specialising in prestressing. It installed the cable stays and put them under tension, while the prestress division of Eiffage was responsible for prestressing the pillar heads.[citation needed]

The steel road deck, and the hydraulic action of the road deck were designed by the Walloon engineering firm Greisch from Liège, Belgium,[18] also an information and communication technologies (ICT) company of the Walloon Region.[19] They carried out the general calculations and the resistance calculations for winds of up to 225 kilometres per hour (140 mph). They also applied the launching technology.[20]

The sliding shutter technology for the bridge piers came from PERI.[citation needed]

Costs and resources

The bridge's construction cost up to 394 million,[2] with a toll plaza 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) north of the viaduct, costing an additional €20 million. The builders, Eiffage, financed the construction in return for a concession to collect the tolls for 75 years,[2][3] until 2080. However, if the concession yields high revenues, the French government can assume control of the bridge as early as 2044.[citation needed]

The project required about 127,000 cubic metres (166,000 cu yd) of concrete, 19,000 tonnes (21,000 short tons) of steel for the reinforced concrete, and 5,000 tonnes (5,500 short tons) of pre-stressed steel for the cables and shrouds. The builder claims that the lifetime of the bridge will be at least 120 years.[citation needed]


Numerous organisations opposed the project, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), France Nature Environnement, the national federation of motorway users, and Environmental Action. Opponents advanced several arguments:[citation needed]


The northern half of the road deck being slowly launched across the pylons. View from the west in early 2004
The northern half of the road deck being slowly launched across the pylons. View from the west in early 2004

Two weeks after the laying of the first stone on December 14, 2001, the workers started digging the deep shafts for the pilings. Each pylon is supported by four concrete pilings. Each piling is 15 metres (49 ft) deep and 5 metres (16 ft) in diameter, assuring the stability of the pylons. At the top of the pilings a large footing was poured, 3–5 metres (10–16 ft) in thickness,to reinforce the strength of the pilings. The 2,000 cubic metres (2,600 cu yd) of concrete necessary for the footings was poured at the same time as pilings.[citation needed]

In March 2002, the pylons emerged from the ground. The speed of construction then rapidly increased. Every three days, each pylon increased in height by 4 metres (13 ft). This performance was mainly due to sliding shuttering. Thanks to a system of shoe anchorages and fixed rails in the heart of the pylons, a new layer of concrete could be poured every 20 minutes.[citation needed]


The bridge road deck was constructed on plateaus at both ends of the viaduct, and pushed onto the pylons using bridge launching techniques. Each half of the assembled road deck was pushed lengthwise from the plateaus to the pylons, passing across one pylon to the next. During the launching, the road deck was also supported by eight temporary towers, which were removed near the end of construction. In addition to hydraulic jacks on each plateau pushing the road decks, each pylon was topped with a mechanism on top of each pylon that also pushed the deck. This mechanism consisted of a computer-controlled pair of wedges under the deck manipulated by hydraulics. The upper and lower wedge of each pair pointed in opposite directions. The wedges were hydraulically operated, and moved repeatedly in the following sequence:

  1. The lower wedge slides under the upper wedge, raising it to the roadway above, and then forcing the upper wedge still higher to lift the roadway
  2. Both wedges move forward together, advancing the roadway a short distance
  3. The lower wedge retracts from under the upper wedge, lowering the roadway and allowing the upper wedge to drop away from the roadway; the lower wedge then moves back all the way to its starting position. There is now a linear distance between the two wedges equal to the distance forward the roadway has just moved.
  4. The upper wedge moves backward, placing it further back along the roadway, adjacent to the front tip of the lower wedge and ready to repeat the cycle and advance the roadway by another increment.

The launching advanced the road deck at 600 millimetres (24 in) per cycle which was roughly four minutes long.[21][22][23]

The mast pieces were driven over the new road deck lying down horizontally. The pieces were joined to form the one complete mast, still lying horizontally. The mast was then tilted upwards, as one piece, at one time in a tricky operation. In this way, each mast was erected on top of the corresponding concrete pylon. The stays connecting the masts and the deck were then installed, and the bridge was tensioned overall, and weight tested. After this, the temporary pylons could be removed.[citation needed]


Construction records

The construction Millau Viaduct broke several records:[citation needed]

Since opening in 2004, the deck height of Millau has been surpassed by several suspension bridges in China, including Sidu River Bridge, Baling River Bridge, and two spans (Beipan River Guanxing Highway Bridge and Beipan River Hukun Expressway Bridge) over the Beipan River. In 2012, Mexico's Baluarte Bridge surpassed Millau as the world's highest cable-stayed bridge. The Royal Gorge suspension bridge in the U.S. state of Colorado is also higher, with a bridge deck approximately 291 metres (955 ft) over the Arkansas River.[24]


The Millau Viaduct and the town of Creissels
The Millau Viaduct and the town of Creissels

The Millau Viaduct is on the territory of the communes of Millau and Creissels, France, in the département of Aveyron. Before the bridge was constructed, traffic had to descend into the Tarn valley and pass along the route nationale N9 near the town of Millau, causing much traffic congestion at the beginning and end of the July and August holiday season. The bridge now traverses the Tarn valley above its lowest point, linking two limestone plateaus, the Causse du Larzac and the Causse Rouge [fr], and is inside the perimeter of the Grands Causses regional natural park.[citation needed]

The Millau Viaduct forms the last link of the existing A75 autoroute[4] (known as "la Méridienne"), from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers. The A75, with the A10 and A71, provides a continuous high-speed route south from Paris through Clermont-Ferrand to the Languedoc region, thence to Spain, considerably reducing the cost and time of vehicle traffic travelling along this route. Many tourists heading to southern France and Spain follow this route because it is direct and without tolls for the 340 kilometres (210 mi) between Clermont-Ferrand and Béziers, except for the bridge.[citation needed]

The Eiffage group, which constructed the Viaduct also operates it, under a government contract, which allows the company to collect tolls for up to 75 years.[2][4] As of 2018, the toll bridge costs 8.30 for light automobiles (€10.40 during the peak season of 15 June to 15 September).[25]

The Millau Viaduct, and the town of Millau on the right
The Millau Viaduct, and the town of Millau on the right


Pylons and abutments

Each of the seven pylons[4] is supported by four deep shafts, 15 metres (49 ft) deep and 5 metres (16 ft) in diameter.[citation needed]

heights of the piers
P1 P2 P3 P4 P5 P6 P7
94.501 m (310 ft 0.5 in) 244.96 m (803 ft 8 in) 221.05 m (725 ft 3 in) 144.21 m (473 ft 2 in) 136.42 m (447 ft 7 in) 111.94 m (367 ft 3 in) 77.56 m (254 ft 6 in)
A pylon under construction
A pylon under construction

The abutments are concrete structures that provide anchorage for the road deck to the ground in the Causse du Larzac and the Causse Rouge.

Road deck

The metallic road deck, which appears very light despite its total mass of around 36,000 tonnes (40,000 short tons), is 2,460 metres (8,070 ft) long and 32 metres (105 ft 0 in) wide. It comprises eight spans. The six central spans measure 342 metres (1,122 ft), and the two outer spans are 204 metres (669 ft). These are composed of 173 central box beams, the spinal column of the construction, onto which the lateral floors and the lateral box beams were welded. The central box beams have a 4 metres (13 ft 1 in) cross-section, and a length of 15–22 metres (49–72 ft) for a total weight of 90 metric tons (99 short tons). The deck has an inverse airfoil shape, providing negative lift in strong wind conditions.[citation needed]


The seven masts, each 87 metres (285 ft) high, and weighing around 700 tonnes (690 long tons; 770 short tons), are set on top of the concrete pylons. Between each of them, eleven stays (metal cables) are anchored, providing support for the road deck.[citation needed]

Cable stays

Each mast of the Viaduct is equipped with a monoaxial layer of eleven pairs of cable-stays; laid face to face. Depending on their length, the cable stays were made of 55 to 91 high tensile steel cables, or strands, themselves formed of seven strands of steel (a central strand with six intertwined strands). Each strand has triple protection against corrosion (galvanisation, a coating of petroleum wax, and an extruded polyethylene sheath). The exterior envelope of the stays is itself coated along its entire length with a double helical weatherstrip. The idea is to avoid running water which, in high winds, could cause vibration in the stays and compromise the stability of the viaduct.[26]

The stays were installed by the Freyssinet company.

Road surface

To allow for deformations of the metal road deck under traffic, a special surface of modified bitumen was installed by research teams from Appia (company) [fr]. The surface is somewhat flexible to adapt to deformations in the steel deck without cracking, but it must nevertheless have sufficient strength to withstand motorway conditions (fatigue, density, texture, adherence, anti-rutting etc.). The 'ideal formula' was found after two years of research.[27]

Electrical installations

The electrical installations of the viaduct are large in proportion to the size of the bridge. There are 30 kilometres (19 mi) of high-current cables, 20 kilometres (12 mi) of fibre optics, 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) of low-current cables, and 357 telephone sockets; allowing maintenance teams to communicate with each other and with the command post. These are situated on the deck, on the pylons, and on the masts.[citation needed]

The pylons, road deck, masts, and cable stays are equipped with a multitude of sensors to enable structural health monitoring. These are designed to detect the slightest movement in the Viaduct, and measure its resistance to wear-and-tear over time. Anemometers, accelerometers, inclinometers, temperature sensors are all used for the instrumentation network.[citation needed]

Twelve fibre optic extensometers were installed in the base of pylon P2. Being the tallest of all, it is therefore under the most intense stress. These sensors detect movements on the order of a micrometre. Other extensometers, electrical this time, are distributed on top of P2 and P7. This apparatus is capable of taking up to 100 readings per second. In high winds, they continuously monitor the reactions of the Viaduct to extreme conditions. Accelerometers placed strategically on the road deck monitor the oscillations that can affect the metal structure. Displacements of the deck on the abutment level are measured to the nearest millimetre. The cable stays are also instrumented, and their ageing meticulously analysed. Additionally, two piezoelectric sensors gather traffic data: weight of vehicles, average speed, density of the flow of traffic, etc. This system can distinguish between fourteen different types of vehicle.[citation needed]

The data is transmitted by an Ethernet network to a computer in the IT room at the management building situated near the toll plaza.

Toll plaza

The toll plaza is on the A75 autoroute; the bridge toll booths and the buildings for the commercial and technical management teams are situated 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) north of the viaduct. The toll plaza is protected by a canopy in the shape of a leaf, formed from tendrilled concrete, using the ceracem process. Consisting of 53 elements (voussoirs), the canopy is 100 metres (330 ft) long and 28 metres (92 ft) wide. It weighs around 2,500 tonnes (2,500 long tons; 2,800 short tons).[citation needed]

The toll plaza can accommodate sixteen lanes of traffic, eight in each direction. At times of low traffic volume, the central booth is capable of servicing vehicles in both directions. A car park and viewing station, equipped with public toilets, is situated at each side of the toll plaza. The total cost was 20 million.[citation needed]

Rest area of Brocuéjouls

View of the rest area with the 'Ferme de Brocuéjouls'
View of the rest area with the 'Ferme de Brocuéjouls'

The rest area of Brocuéjouls, named Aire du Viaduc de Millau,[28] is situated just north of the viaduct, and is centred on an old farm building named 'Ferme de Brocuéjouls'.[29] It was inaugurated by the prefect of Aveyron, Chantal Jourdan, on 30 June 2006, after 7 months of works. The farm and its surroundings can accommodate entertainment and tourism promotion activities.[30]

The cost of this work amounted to  5.8 million:


Impact and events

Pedestrian sporting events

Unusually for a bridge closed to pedestrians, a run took place in 2004, and another on 13 May 2007:[citation needed]

Events and popular culture

See also

Comparison of the side elevations of the Millau Viaduct and some notable bridges at the same scale. (click for interactive version)


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