|Ancestor||Simple suspension bridge|
|Related||Underspanned suspension bridge; see also cable-stayed bridge|
|Descendant||Self-anchored suspension bridge|
|Carries||Pedestrians, bicycles, livestock, automobiles, trucks, light rail|
|Span range||Medium to long|
|Material||Steel rope, multiple steel wire strand cables or forged or cast chain links|
A suspension bridge is a type of bridge in which the deck is hung below suspension cables on vertical suspenders. The first modern examples of this type of bridge were built in the early 1800s. Simple suspension bridges, which lack vertical suspenders, have a long history in many mountainous parts of the world.
Besides the bridge type most commonly called suspension bridges, covered in this article, there are other types of suspension bridges. The type covered here has cables suspended between towers, with vertical suspender cables that transfer the live and dead loads of the deck below, upon which traffic crosses. This arrangement allows the deck to be level or to arc upward for additional clearance. Like other suspension bridge types, this type often is constructed without the use of falsework.
The suspension cables must be anchored at each end of the bridge, since any load applied to the bridge is transformed into tension in these main cables. The main cables continue beyond the pillars to deck-level supports, and further continue to connections with anchors in the ground. The roadway is supported by vertical suspender cables or rods, called hangers. In some circumstances, the towers may sit on a bluff or canyon edge where the road may proceed directly to the main span, otherwise the bridge will usually have two smaller spans, running between either pair of pillars and the highway, which may be supported by suspender cables or their own trusswork. In the latter case, there will be very little arc in the outboard main cables.
For bridges where the deck follows the suspenders, see simple suspension bridge.
The earliest suspension bridges were ropes slung across a chasm, with a deck possibly at the same level or hung below the ropes such that the rope had a catenary shape.
The Tibetan siddha and bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo originated the use of iron chains in his version of simple suspension bridges. In 1433, Gyalpo built eight bridges in eastern Bhutan. The last surviving chain-linked bridge of Gyalpo's was the Thangtong Gyalpo Bridge in Duksum en route to Trashi Yangtse, which was finally washed away in 2004. Gyalpo's iron chain bridges did not include a suspended-deck bridge, which is the standard on all modern suspension bridges today. Instead, both the railing and the walking layer of Gyalpo's bridges used wires. The stress points that carried the screed were reinforced by the iron chains. Before the use of iron chains it is thought that Gyalpo used ropes from twisted willows or yak skins. He may have also used tightly bound cloth.
The first iron chain suspension bridge in the Western world was the Jacob's Creek Bridge (1801) in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, designed by inventor James Finley. Finley's bridge was the first to incorporate all of the necessary components of a modern suspension bridge, including a suspended deck which hung by trusses. Finley patented his design in 1808, and published it in the Philadelphia journal, The Port Folio, in 1810.
Early British chain bridges included the Dryburgh Abbey Bridge (1817) and 137 m Union Bridge (1820), with spans rapidly increasing to 176 m with the Menai Bridge (1826), "the first important modern suspension bridge". The first chain bridge on the German speaking territories was the Chain Bridge in Nuremberg. The Sagar Iron Suspension Bridge with a 200 feet span (also termed Beose Bridge) was constructed near Sagar, India during 1828-1830 by Duncan Presgrave, Mint and Assay Master. The Clifton Suspension Bridge (designed in 1831, completed in 1864 with a 214 m central span), is similar to the Sagar bridge. It is one of the longest of the parabolic arc chain type. The current Marlow suspension bridge was designed by William Tierney Clark and was built between 1829 and 1832, replacing a wooden bridge further downstream which collapsed in 1828. It is the only suspension bridge across the non-tidal Thames. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, (designed in 1840, opened in 1849), spanning the River Danube in Budapest, was also designed by William Clark and it is a larger-scale version of Marlow Bridge.
An interesting variation is Thornewill and Warham's Ferry Bridge in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire (1889), where the chains are not attached to abutments as is usual, but instead are attached to the main girders, which are thus in compression. Here, the chains are made from flat wrought iron plates, eight inches (203 mm) wide by an inch and a half (38 mm) thick, rivetted together.
The first wire-cable suspension bridge was the Spider Bridge at Falls of Schuylkill (1816), a modest and temporary footbridge built following the collapse of James Finley's nearby Chain Bridge at Falls of Schuylkill (1808). The footbridge's span was 124 m, although its deck was only 0.45 m wide.
Development of wire-cable suspension bridges dates to the temporary simple suspension bridge at Annonay built by Marc Seguin and his brothers in 1822. It spanned only 18 m. The first permanent wire cable suspension bridge was Guillaume Henri Dufour's Saint Antoine Bridge in Geneva of 1823, with two 40 m spans. The first with cables assembled in mid-air in the modern method was Joseph Chaley's Grand Pont Suspendu in Fribourg, in 1834.
In the United States, the first major wire-cable suspension bridge was the Wire Bridge at Fairmount in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Designed by Charles Ellet Jr. and completed in 1842, it had a span of 109 m. Ellet's Niagara Falls suspension bridge (1847–48) was abandoned before completion. It was used as scaffolding for John A. Roebling's double decker railroad and carriage bridge (1855).
The Otto Beit Bridge (1938–1939) was the first modern suspension bridge outside the United States built with parallel wire cables.
Two towers/pillars, two suspension cables, four suspension cable anchors, multiple suspender cables, the bridge deck.
The main cables of a suspension bridge will form a catenary; the cables will instead form a parabola if they are assumed to have zero weight. One can see the shape from the constant increase of the gradient of the cable with linear (deck) distance, this increase in gradient at each connection with the deck providing a net upward support force. Combined with the relatively simple constraints placed upon the actual deck, that makes the suspension bridge much simpler to design and analyze than a cable-stayed bridge in which the deck is in compression.
Cable-stayed bridges and suspension bridges may appear to be similar, but are quite different in principle and in their construction.
In suspension bridges, large main cables (normally two) hang between the towers and are anchored at each end to the ground. The main cables, which are free to move on bearings in the towers, bear the load of the bridge deck. Before the deck is installed, the cables are under tension from their own weight. Along the main cables smaller cables or rods connect to the bridge deck, which is lifted in sections. As this is done, the tension in the cables increases, as it does with the live load of traffic crossing the bridge. The tension on the main cables is transferred to the ground at the anchorages and by downwards compression on the towers.
In cable-stayed bridges, the towers are the primary load-bearing structures that transmit the bridge loads to the ground. A cantilever approach is often used to support the bridge deck near the towers, but lengths further from them are supported by cables running directly to the towers. By design, all static horizontal forces of the cable-stayed bridge are balanced so that the supporting towers do not tend to tilt or slide and so must only resist horizontal forces from the live loads.
In an underspanned suspension bridge, also called under-deck cable-stayed bridge, the main cables hang entirely below the bridge deck, but are still anchored into the ground in a similar way to the conventional type. Very few bridges of this nature have been built, as the deck is inherently less stable than when suspended below the cables. Examples include the Pont des Bergues of 1834 designed by Guillaume Henri Dufour; James Smith's Micklewood Bridge; and a proposal by Robert Stevenson for a bridge over the River Almond near Edinburgh.
Roebling's Delaware Aqueduct (begun 1847) consists of three sections supported by cables. The timber structure essentially hides the cables; and from a quick view, it is not immediately apparent that it is even a suspension bridge.
The main suspension cables in older bridges were often made from a chain or linked bars, but modern bridge cables are made from multiple strands of wire. This not only adds strength but improves reliability (often called redundancy in engineering terms) because the failure of a few flawed strands in the hundreds used pose very little threat of failure, whereas a single bad link or eyebar can cause failure of an entire bridge. (The failure of a single eyebar was found to be the cause of the collapse of the Silver Bridge over the Ohio River.) Another reason is that as spans increased, engineers were unable to lift larger chains into position, whereas wire strand cables can be formulated one by one in mid-air from a temporary walkway.
Poured sockets are used to make a high strength, permanent cable termination. They are created by inserting the suspender wire rope (at the bridge deck supports) into the narrow end of a conical cavity which is oriented in-line with the intended direction of strain. The individual wires are splayed out inside the cone or 'capel', and the cone is then filled with molten lead-antimony-tin (Pb80Sb15Sn5) solder.
Most suspension bridges have open truss structures to support the roadbed, particularly owing to the unfavorable effects of using plate girders, discovered from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (1940) bridge collapse. In the 1960s, developments in bridge aerodynamics allowed the re-introduction of plate structures as shallow box girders, first seen on the Severn bridge, built 1961–1966. In the picture of the Yichang Bridge, note the very sharp entry edge and sloping undergirders in the suspension bridge shown. This enables this type of construction to be used without the danger of vortex shedding and consequent aeroelastic effects, such as those that destroyed the original Tacoma Narrows bridge.
Three kinds of forces operate on any bridge: the dead load, the live load, and the dynamic load. Dead load refers to the weight of the bridge itself. Like any other structure, a bridge has a tendency to collapse simply because of the gravitational forces acting on the materials of which the bridge is made. Live load refers to traffic that moves across the bridge as well as normal environmental factors such as changes in temperature, precipitation, and winds. Dynamic load refers to environmental factors that go beyond normal weather conditions, factors such as sudden gusts of wind and earthquakes. All three factors must be taken into consideration when building a bridge.
The principles of suspension used on a large scale also appear in contexts less dramatic than road or rail bridges. Light cable suspension may prove less expensive and seem more elegant for a cycle or footbridge than strong girder supports. An example of this is the Nescio Bridge in the Netherlands, and the Roebling designed 1904 Riegelsville suspension pedestrian bridge across the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. The longest pedestrian suspension bridge, which spans the River Paiva, Arouca Geopark, Portugal, opened in April 2021. The 516 metres bridge hangs 175 meters above the river.
Where such a bridge spans a gap between two buildings, there is no need to construct special towers, as the buildings can anchor the cables. Cable suspension may also be augmented by the inherent stiffness of a structure that has much in common with a tubular bridge.
Typical suspension bridges are constructed using a sequence generally described as follows. Depending on length and size, construction may take anywhere between a year and a half (construction on the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge took only 19 months) up to as long as a decade (the Akashi-Kaikyō Bridge's construction began in May 1986 and was opened in May 1998 – a total of twelve years).
Main article: List of longest suspension bridge spans
Suspension bridges are typically ranked by the length of their main span. These are the ten bridges with the longest spans, followed by the length of the span and the year the bridge opened for traffic:
|Çanakkale 1915 Bridge||Turkey||2023 m (6637 ft)||2022|
|Akashi Kaikyō Bridge||Japan||1991 m (6532 ft)||1998|
|Yangsigang Bridge||China||1700 m (5577 ft)||2019|
|Xihoumen Bridge||China||1650 m (5413 ft)||2009|
|Great Belt Bridge||Denmark||1624 m (5328 ft)||1998|
|Osman Gazi Bridge||Turkey||1550 m (5085 ft)||2016|
|Yi Sun-sin bridge||South Korea||1545 m (5069 ft)||2012|
|Runyang Bridge||China||1490 m (4888 ft)||2005|
|Fourth Nanjing Yangtze Bridge||China||1418 m (4652 ft)||2012|
|Humber Bridge||United Kingdom||1410 m (4626 ft)||1981|
|Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge||Turkey||1408 m (4619 ft)||2016|
See also: History of longest vehicle suspension bridge spans
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