By Bose Chan
China has done it again, pushing architectural boundaries higher and higher. The Aizhai Bridge (矮寨大桥) is a suspension bridge on the G65 Baotou-Maoming Expressway near Jishou, Hunan. It is the world’s highest and longest tunnel-to-tunnel bridge with a main span of 1,146 metres and a deck height of 350 metres.
Construction began in October 2007 and was completed in Dec 2011 with the assistance of a $208 million load from the Asian Development Bank, cutting travel time from Jishou to Chadong from four hours to less than one hour.
According to Chen Mingxian, a renowned bridge expert and commander of the Aizhai bridge construction headquarters, the Aizhai Bridge bridges the Jishou-Chadong Highway with its steel truss girder bridge. Although it won’t be not the highest bridge in the world by deck height (interestingly, this title also belongs to the Chinese, the Si Du River Bridge has a deck height of a staggering 496 metres), the Hunan Road and Bridge Construction Group and its partners created four No.1s (according to them) in the world architectural feats — First, the construction of its 1,146m long main span suspension bridge that crosses its canyon; Second, the first use of a pylon and girder separation structure; Third, the first use of a rock anchor in suspension and the use of carbon fiber as its pre-stressed reinforcement material; and lastly, the first adoption of rail cable sliding techniques used to erect the steel truss girder.
To most layman Chinese, it is just one really high bridge and another fine symbol of Chinese architectural genius, in line with the spirit of China’s rapid development. It is claimed the bridge had the strong support of the locals. At their request, Aizhai was opened up briefly prior to its operational opening during the Spring Festival for touring visits. Like most Chinese events, people of all ages flood the bridge daily in the tens of thousands. Security and health issues cropped up due to the massive movement and the number of local entrepreneurs popping up to sell snacks and refreshments. Due to the lack of cleaning initiatives, a common feature of mass crowds all over the world and especially in China, the grand bridge of Aizhai began to be cluttered with rubbish, spoiling the beautiful scenery of the area and their very symbol of pride. The bridge has hence been re-closed for sanitisation, ready for the actual reopening.
There is the Great Wall, and then there is the Great Bridge. What’s next? Building castles in the air does not seem like a Chinese dream anymore.