Millau Viaduct

The Millau Viaduct
The Millau Viaduct
Official nameLe Viaduc de Millau
Carries4 lanes of the A75 autoroute
CrossesValley of the River Tarn
DesignCable-Stayed
Longest span342 m (1,122 ft)
Total length2,460 m (8,071 ft)
Width32 m (105 ft)
Clearance below270 m (886 ft) at maximum
Opening date14 December 2004

The Millau Viaduct (French: le Viaduc de Millau) is a large cable-stayed road-bridge that spans the valley of the River Tarn near Millau in southern France. Designed by the structural engineer Michel Virlogeux and British architect Norman Foster, it is the tallest vehicular bridge in the world, with one mast's summit at 343 metres (1,125 ft) — slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower and only 38 m (125 ft) shorter than the Empire State Building. The viaduct is part of the A75-A71 autoroute axis from Paris to Béziers. It was formally dedicated on 14 December 2004, inaugurated the day after and opened to traffic two days later. The bridge won the 2006 IABSE Outstanding Structure Award.

Construction records

The bridge’s construction broke three world records:

  • The highest pylons in the world: pylons P2 and P3, 244.96 metres (803 ft 8 in) and 221.05 metres (725 ft 3 in) in height respectively, broke the French record previously held by the Tulle and Verrières Viaducts (141 m/460 ft), and the world record previously held by the Kochertal Viaduct (Germany), which is 181 metres (590 ft) at its highest;
  • The highest mast in the world: the mast atop pylon P2 peaks at 343 metres (1,130 ft).
  • The highest road bridge deck in the world, 270 m (890 ft) above the Tarn River at its highest point. It is nearly twice as tall as the previous tallest vehicular bridge in Europe, the Europabrücke in Austria. It is slightly higher than the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia in the United States, which is 267 m (880 ft) above the New River. Only the bridge deck of the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado, United States (mainly a pedestrian bridge over the Arkansas River, occasionally also used by motor vehicles) is higher with 321 m (1,050 ft), and is considered the highest bridge in the world.
  • The record for highest bridge deck in the world is likely to be taken by the Chenab Bridge in the Reasi District of Jammu and Kashmir, India, scheduled for completion in December 2009, which will be 359 metres (1,180 ft) high.

Location

The Millau Viaduct is located 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 River valley and pass along the route nationale N9 near the town of Millau, causing heavy congestion at the beginning and end of the July and August vacation season. The bridge now traverses the Tarn valley above its lowest point, linking two limestone plateaux, the Causee du Larzac and the Causse Rouge, and is inside the perimeter of the Grands Causses regional natural park.

The bridge forms the last link of the A75 autoroute, (la Méridienne) from Clermont-Ferrand to Pézenas (to be extended to Béziers by 2010). The A75, with the A10 and A71, provides a continuous high-speed route south from Paris through Clermont-Ferrand to the Languedoc region and through to Spain, considerably reducing the cost 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 Pézenas, except for the bridge itself.

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. The toll bridge costs €5.60 for light automobiles (€7.40 during the peak months of July and August).

North-South axes

The four route options for Perpignan–ParisAs of 2007[update], there are four north-south routes, or axes, traversing France:

  • In the east, the Paris-Lyon-Vallée du Rhône route using the A6 and A7 autoroutes;
  • In the west, the Paris-Bordeaux-Agen-Toulouse route using the A10 and A62 autoroutes;
  • Centrally, west of the Massif Central, the Vierzon-Limoges-Brive-Toulouse route using the A20;
  • Centrally, through the Massif central and using the Millau Viaduct, the Clermont-Ferrand-Béziers route using the A75.

A75 autoroute

Construction started in 1975 and was finished in 2004 when the Millau Viaduct went into service.

The new A75 autoroute, complementing the A71 from Orléans to Clermont-Ferrand, created a fourth route through France and has several advantages:

  • It relieves traffic congestion in the Rhone Valley which connects Northern Europe with Spain and Portugal, and allows holiday-makers to reach the Mediterranean quickly;
  • It also opens up the Massif Central and the town of Clermont-Ferrand to the south;
  • It enhances the French motorway network and, in a wider perspective, facilitates travel between Northern Europe and the Île de France on one hand, and on the other, Spain and the west Mediterranean region.

Bypassing Tarn at Millau

The Tarn flows from the east to the west of France, south of the Massif Central, bisecting the country's North-South axis.

For nearly thirty years prior to the construction of the Millau Viaduct, the A75 autoroute had remained unfinished. Before the bridge, a crossing of the River Tarn was provided by a bridge situated in the valley bottom, in the town of Millau. Millau was then known and dreaded as a ‘great black spot’ of motoring. Kilometres of congestion and hours of waiting to transit the town recurred each year with the great surge in traffic in summer months. These slowdowns meant that the advantages of the A75 were lost. The A75 was meant to be a positive example of spatial planning, a modern, direct highway entirely free along its 340 km (210 mi) length. As it was, the traffic from the autoroute brought pollution and danger to the town of Millau.

Design and construction of the bridge took a long time. In this region, climatic conditions are tough, with violent winds. Geological characteristics of the high plateaus of Larzac are peculiar, and, because the Tarn Valley is so deep, crossing is difficult. Different approaches were investigated, and all of them were found to be very technically demanding. Ten years of research and four years of implementation were required for completion of the Millau Viaduct.

Gallery

View of the Millau Viaduct, taken from the viewing area on the northern side
View of the Millau Viaduct, taken from the valley below
The view from underneath a pylon
Single segment of the construction on the small exhibition under viaduct
Large numbers of people stop to observe the viaduct from the viewing area on the northern side
Front view of the toll plaza