Gallery: 10 Iconic Bridges of America

Our well-documented infrastructure needs notwithstanding, these iconic bridges stand out for their form and function.

Since the dawn of man, the primary function bridges have performed is to connect us to one another. At what point did they become more than that? Today, where form doesn’t always follow function, the design is everything. As a matter of fact, the original design of the Golden Gate looks nothing like the one we see today. After receiving awful feedback from the local press, architect Joseph Strauss changed his original design for a more traditional suspension bridge. The following is based on a poster series of the 10 most iconic bridges in the United States from Geotab.

1) Golden Gate Bridge

The strikingly colorful steel and distinctive Art Deco touches to make the Golden Gate Bridge one of the most recognized landmarks in the world. Architect Irving Morrow pushed for the suspension bridge’s vivid shade of international orange, not only to contrast with the blue of the Pacific Ocean but to also make it visible in the dense, gray fog that rolls across the Golden Gate strait almost daily. Heavier than the Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge is held together by 1.2 million steel rivets and was once the world’s longest suspension bridge. Celebrations went on for a week after it opened, and today the structure is one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions.

Architect: Irving Morrow

Built: 1933-1937

Height: 746 ft
Length: 8,981 ft
Date opened: May 27, 1937
Location: San Francisco, Calif.
Daily traffic: 112,000 vehicles

2) Chesapeake Bay Bridge

Often referred to as one of the scariest bridges in the world, this dual-span steel suspension bridge snakes across the Chesapeake Bay for just over four miles. Built-in 1952 to connect a stretch that previously had to be traveled by ferry, the bridge’s five lanes of traffic can be adjusted to ease congestion. The structure’s height, gentle inclines, and curves reveal an expansive view of the Bay on either side, and the minimalist design is striking when seen from a viewpoint like Sandy Point State Park. However, you’ll want to keep your eyes on the road when crossing this bridge, as its low guard rails, narrow span, and see-through railings leave some drivers feeling exposed. But if you get cold feet, don’t worry:  There’s a service that will take you across in your own car.

Architects: J.E. Greiner Company

Built: 1949-1973

Height: 354 ft (eastbound), 379 ft (westbound)
Length: 22,790 ft
Date opened: July 30, 1952 (eastbound), June 28, 1973 (westbound)
Location: Maryland 
Daily Traffic: 70,000 vehicles

3) O’Callaghan Tillman Memorial Bridge

This concrete arch bridge is the highest in America and the best place to find vertigo-inducing views of the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and the towering rocks of the Black Canyon. Located less than an hour’s drive from the Las Vegas strip, it was built as a faster, safer way to cross the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada. Its open structure was designed to withstand winds, earthquakes, and heavy service loads without encroaching on the views of the dam or surrounding area. The bridge is a fitting tribute to the two war heroes it's named after. Mike O'Callaghan was a former Nevada governor and Korean War veteran, and Pat Tillman was an Arizona Cardinals football player who lost his life in Afghanistan, aged 27.

Architects: T.Y. Lin International

Built: 2005-2010

Height: 890 ft 
Length: 1,900 ft
Date opened: Oct. 16, 2010 
Location: Boulder City, Nev.
Daily Traffic: 16,000 vehicles

4) Penobscot Narrows Bridge

This bridge seems to grow out of the countryside itself, appearing through the trees to span the Penobscot River (the “narrows”). The carbon composite cables were an engineering first, fanning out from two narrows, tapering concrete pillars that form the highest part of the bridge. Acting as observation towers, these pillars provide unrivaled panoramic views of the Maine countryside, including Fort Knox and the village of Bucksport, all the way to Mount Katahdin (terminus of the Appalachian Trail) on a clear day. Built to replace the corroded Waldo-Hancock Bridge, civil engineers view the structure as a major innovation for cable-stayed bridges, which require less cable and are faster to build than suspension bridges.

Architects: FIGG (Figg Engineering Group)

Built: 2003-2006

Height: 447 ft
Length: 2,120 ft
Date opened: Dec. 30, 2006
Location: Verona Island, Maine
Daily Traffic: 10,000 vehicles

5) George Washington Bridge

Crossing the Hudson River, this bridge’s two decks allow 14 lanes of traffic to travel between Fort Lee in New Jersey and Washington Heights on Manhattan Island. More than 108 million cars drive beneath the lattice steel towers of this iconic suspension bridge every year. However, the signature metal towers were not actually intended to form the finished product. Granite stone was initially chosen to match the rugged landscape of the New York shore, but due to cost considerations, the light gray framework and 107,000 miles of steel wires were left exposed. The result is now an essential part of the New York skyline, overshadowing the tiny red lighthouse in Fort Washington Park below.

Architects: Othmar Ammann and Cass Gilbert

Built: 1927-1931/1962

Height: 604 ft 
Length: 4,760 ft
Date opened: October 24, 1931 (upper level), August 29, 1962 (lower level)
Location: New York/New Jersey
Daily traffic: 282,000 vehicles

6) Brooklyn Bridge

This iconic suspension bridge over the East River is one of the most recognizable parts of the New York skyline. The foundations were dug by men working underwater in “caissons”—giant wooden boxes that were filled with compressed air and submerged. Costing $15 million, it was the world’s first steel suspension bridge and was regarded as a major breakthrough in suspension bridge technology. The addition of a web truss to either side of the bridge roadway significantly stabilized the structure. The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to build and claimed the lives of at least 27 men who worked on it, including designer and architect John Augustus Roebling. In 1884, after the bridge was completed, 21 elephants were led across to prove its stability and the sturdiness of its foundations.

Architect: John Augustus Roebling

Built: 1869-1883

Height: 276.5 ft 
Length:  5,989 ft
Date opened: May 24, 1883
Location: New York City, New York
Daily traffic: 102,000 vehicles

7) Bixby Creek Bridge

One of the tallest single-span concrete bridges in the world, the Bixby Creek Bridge is also one of the country’s most photographed. As the gateway to the Big Sur region on California’s Pacific coast, engineers F.W. Panhorst and C.H. Purcell designed the bridge to blend in with nature. They chose concrete to match the crumbling cliffs and steep canyons below, focusing on “harmony between man and the environment.” Costing $200,000 to build, the bridge was designed to support six times the original anticipated traffic load, and in 1998 was retrofitted to withstand earthquakes at a cost of $20 million. The Bixby Creek Bridge has been featured in Jack Kerouac novels, numerous car commercials, and television series (most recently, HBO’s “Big Little Lies”).

Architects: Frederick W. Panhorst, Charles H. Purcell, and Harvey D. Stover

Built: 1931-1932

Height: 280 ft
Length: 714 ft
Date opened: November 27, 1932
Location: Big Sur, Calif.
Daily Traffic: 5,000 vehicles

8) Lake Pontchartrain Causeway

This bridge may not offer soaring heights or extravagant towers and cables but is so long that for eight of its 24 miles, you can’t see the land on either side. With New Orleans on its southern shore, the surrounding wetlands area and the flocks of migrating purple martins that roost under the bridge during the summer months, Lake Pontchartrain is one of Louisiana’s most scenic attractions. Initially built to save time traveling around the 630 square miles of lake, the first span of the bridge took just 14 months to build. The second span opened in 1969. That same year, the bridge won the American Institute of Steel Construction Prize in the movable span category, for bridges with sections that move to allow boats to pass through.

Architects: Palmer & Baker, Inc.

Built: 1955-1956/1969

Height: 50 ft
Length: 126,122 ft
Date opened: Aug. 30, 1956 (southbound), May 10, 1969 (northbound)
Location: New Orleans, La.
Daily traffic: 33,000 vehicles

9) Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge

In Dallas, a huge arc rises above the Trinity River, illuminated and visible from all over the city. Along with 58 intertwining cables, this results in an otherworldly appearance at night. The unmistakable single-arched pylon that gives this bridge its modern, sleek look is typical of designer Santiago Calatrava’s style. During the day, the white steel lines of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge blend in with the sky, making them almost—but not quite—invisible. Built to connect the downtown area with West Dallas, the bridge is an integral element of urban regeneration efforts. It has both reinvigorated areas of the city and become an iconic part of the skyline.

Architect: Santiago Calatrava

Built: 2005-2012

Height: 400 ft 
Length: 1,870 ft
Date opened: March 29, 2012
Location: Dallas, Tex.
Daily traffic: 42,000 vehicles

10) Royal Gorge Bridge

Crossing a heart-stoppingly high suspension bridge is just one of the adrenaline-fueled activities you can do in this area. When the steep, rocky sides of the gorge drop away and you’re traveling 1,000 feet above the ground, the Arkansas River below is merely a small, gray trickle. The Royal Gorge Bridge was originally built to attract tourists and was created using crushed stone and granite from excavations in the canyon. It was regarded as the highest bridge in the world up until 2001 and is still the highest in the United States to this day. If crossing the bridge on foot isn’t terrifying enough, truly fearless tourists can also traverse the gorge via a zip line.

Architect: George E. Cole

Built: 1929-1929

Height: 1,053 ft
Length: 1,260 ft
Date opened: Dec. 8, 1929
Location: Cañon City, Colo.
Daily Traffic: 1,000 vehicles

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