Fueled by one of the greatest economic booms in world history, China has been on an infrastructure-building spree of late. In 2010 and 2011, the country opened four new massive bridges, giving it claim to four of the five longest bridges in the world. China now boasts seven of the 10 longest bridges in the world, all built within the past decade. Such engineering feats were once mainly the province of the United States, which for much of the latter half of the 20th century boasted most of the longest bridges in the world.
Here are the 10 longest bridges in the U.S., and no matter how well traveled you are, four or five of these bridges will come as a surprise. (Distances are given as the total bridge length, including approaches on shore.)
10. General W.K. Wilson Jr. Bridge
The two spans of the W.K. Wilson Bridge carry Interstate 65 across the Mobile River just northeast of Mobile, Alabama. Finished in 1978, the bridge stretches 6.08 miles and its architectural curves prompted locals to nickname it “The Dolly Parton Bridge.”
9. Sunshine Skyway Bridge
This world-famous bridge stretches 6.51 miles across Tampa Bay between the St. Petersburg area and Terra Ceia, Florida. The current span was completed in 1987, replacing an earlier bridge that was heavily damaged in 1980 when a freighter collided with a support column, sending a quarter-mile of the bridge — and 11 vehicles — into the water 150 feet below. The incident claimed 35 lives. Given its picturesque, cable-stayed design, the Travel Channel ranked the bridge No. 3 on its list of Top 10 Bridges in the World. Sadly, in addition to drawing tourists, the bridge also is a popular site for suicide-prone individuals. More than 130 suicides have been confirmed, with many others suspected, and many would-be jumpers have been talked down from the bridge.
8. Seven-Mile Bridge
Part of the famous Overseas Highway connecting mainland Florida with the Keys, this 6.76-mile-long bridge carries U.S. 1 from Knight’s Key to Little Duck Key. The bridge is the movie star of structures on this list, with appearances in several films, including True Lies and License to Kill. Large portions of an adjacent bridge, finished in 1912, still stand.
7. San Mateo-Hayward Bridge
This 7-mile bridge, which crosses San Francisco Bay, is the only structure on this list west of Louisiana. Almost 93,000 vehicles a day take it between San Mateo and Alameda counties. Opened in 1967, the bridge on California Route 92 was legendary for its rush-hour traffic snarls before being widened in 2003.
6. Jubilee Parkway
The second bridge on this list in south Alabama, this 8-mile-long twin viaduct carrying Interstate 10 across Mobile Bay opened in 1978. As for the bridge’s moniker, Jubilee refers to a bizarre but much-celebrated local event when fish, crabs, shrimp and other sea creatures suddenly swarm into the shallow waters of Mobile Bay, and even crawl or slither their way onto land.
5. Bonnet Carre Spillway Bridge
The Bonnet Carre Spillway made national news in 2011, when it was opened to relieve catastrophic flooding on the Mississippi River. The 11-mile spillway bridge, in St. Charles Parrish, Louisiana, carries Interstate 10 and U.S. 61.
4. Atchafalaya Basin Bridge
The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge carries two spans of I-10 over the Atchafalaya River and swamp, the largest swamp in the United States. It connects Lafayette and Baton Rouge. Opened in 1973, it checks in at 18.2 miles and is longer than the No. 2 bridge on this list (see below) if measuring shore-to-shore.
3. Manchac Swamp Bridge
These twin structures carry Interstate 55 22.80 miles over the Manchac Swamp in southern Louisiana. It’s one of four bridges on this list located in the state of Louisiana, and several other bridges from the Pelican State almost qualified.
2. Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel
Not to be confused with the Chesapeake Bay Bridge further north, this bridge-tunnel structure was an engineering marvel when the first portion opened to traffic in 1964. At the time the American Society of Civil Engineers named it “One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World,” and the bridge-tunnel remains an awe-inspiring journey for travelers. Built with a combination of trestles, bridges, two tunnels, four artificial islands and a causeway, the bridge-tunnel connects Virginia Beach and Virginia’s Eastern Shore. A second above-water span opened in 1999. Just how long is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel? That’s a matter of debate among bridge buffs, as it is measured at 17.6 miles from shore to shore, although the CBBT Commission lists the total length as 23 miles, including approach roads, giving it the edge over the aforementioned Atchafalaya and Manchac swamp bridges, as their listed distances are mostly over water.
1. Lake Pontchartrain Causeway
Finally, a bridge in Louisiana you’ve heard of, because it is world famous. Opened in 1956 — a second span was finished in 1969 — the causeway held the record for decades as the world’s longest bridge over water until China’s Jiaozhou Bay Bridge opened in June 2011. Causeway officials were quick to point out that bridge’s length includes several ramps and other features that shouldn’t count, and after petitioning the Guinness Book of World Records, a new category was added: “Longest Bridge Over Water (Continuous).” The Lake Pontchartrain Causeway holds that record, at 23.87 miles. It remains a popular draw for New Orleans tourists who want to drive across the world’s longest bridge — even if that statement must now be qualified.