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Yesterday President Chirac proudly opened the Millau Viaduct, to universal acclaim, not just in France, but from anyone in the world who has seen any of the photos.


It is a truly magnificent structure. Yesterday I foolishly speculated that they might have saved billions had they been been willing to build something smaller and wigglier, but since this bridge in fact only cost an amazing €394 million that is flat wrong. And what is more, the entire cost of the bridge was paid by a private company, the same one that built the Eiffel Tower.

This bridge gives the world perhaps its biggest and juiciest taste so far of just what a huge impact on road transport the era of road pricing, now getting seriously underway, is destined to have. At first, environmentalists favoured road pricing, because they thought it would discourage cars. Alas for vain hopes. Road pricing make it possible for the private sector to build more and more magnificent roads. This bridge could never have been contemplated, let alone built, had the French not long been in the habit of paying to use their fastest roads.

It also illustrates perfectly just how amazingly bridge technology has progressed in recent years. The French had long known that they needed this bridge, and that it needed to be this high and this direct. It was just that until now, bridge technology did not permit its construction. And then … it did! With truly wonderful results.

The only tiny doubt concerns the fact that the architect (whatever exactly that means of what is essentially an engineering triumph) is the same architect as presided over the construction of the (aesthetically very pleasing) Millenium footbridge, in London. That famously wobbled when it was first opened. This was quickly fixed of course, and it was only a wobble, not a catastrophe. But I bet when that happened, the clients for this new whopper felt a teeny bit of a wobble themselves. I so assume, however, that all is completely well structurally with the new bridge.

The Internet is now quite properly awash with imagery of this masterpiece, and I have linked to many such views. In addition to all the regular pictures, I particularly like this one.

30 comments to Magnifique

  • Awesome… I hope they have some good signal lights on that structure though… the suspension cables fairly scream “Spider web for small planes!” (and maybe low-flying large ones).

    The view would also be terrific, but I imagine some people are going to be terrified of driving across it and they’ll have to put professional drivers on the bridge like in at least one instance I know of in the States.

  • Be interesting to see how much they sell the bungy jumping rights for!

  • Giles

    Your comment reminds me that I should have included the words “James” and “Bond” in my original posting.

  • Looks like a surefire BASE jumper magnet in any case.

  • Sylvain Galineau

    I have been in this very location. This is a blight on the landscape. Great if you’re driving. If you live there, you now have this giant massive ego trip on your horizon. Brilliant.

  • Verity

    Agree with Sylvain. I saw it going up, and it’s a blight from one point of view and magnificent from another. Either way, there is no way I personally will ever be driving across it.

    Monique, the idea of professional drivers is superb. This pales by comparison, but once I was going for a job interview – can’t remember exactly where, I think Baton Rouge, but I suddenly came to a bridge across the Mississippi and pulled off to the side in raw panic. Somehow, I managed to get off the road, turn around and head back. If there had been a professional driver available, my life may have been different today.

  • Jake Walters

    Why, exactly did they NEED this bridge? For all its size and €394 million cost, it crosses nothing more extraordinary then a shallow, gently sloping valley that has a river no deeper and wider then a few meters running through one corner of it. That highway could just as easily have been build along the valley floor. At least the whole thing is privately funded and pay as you go. Impressive looking too.

  • Jake, the answer to your question is the N9 – which does pretty much as you suggest. Delightful though the twists and turns are down the valley to Millau (a wonderful motorcycling road), it is no longer suitable for the volume of traffic. The A75 further south as it passes Lodève is particularly twisty and progress becomes difficult. Dropping the motorway down the Tarn valley would have a similar effect.

    Why build such an impressive structure? Perhaps, though, a more accurate response to the question would be “and why not?”

    I’ve watched this structure take shape over the last couple of years when driving through the area. I’ll be travelling across this bridge on Sunday and I’m looking forward to it – at €4.9 it’s a bargain. It will probably knock around three quarters of an hour off our journey to Le Caylar.

  • mike

    Yes it is beautiful isn’t it?! Never mind the cost of the rights to bungee off it, I’m sitting here listening to U2’s ‘even better than the real thing’ stuck on the thought of actually bungee jumping off of it… ohh wow…

  • Sylvain Galineau

    Verity, exactly. They make darn sure they don’t show the view from the quaint old town down below, where half the sky is now occupied by this modern monstrosity.

    I will say though I can’t wait to drive on it. That must be way cool and I should be doing just that in a couple of weeks…..unless it’s blocked by some strikers or farmers. After all, Jose Bove’s farm is in the area.

  • Verity

    The bridge was built so people from Paris and the north with holiday homes in the Languedoc could cut an hour off their drive time.

  • It’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever be driving over this structure — we Du Toits tend to prefer the windy scenic roads more than the über-efficient highways — but I think that the people in said towns are better served by diverting through traffic along such highways. Anyone who’s ever tried to drive through a small British market town (like Marlborough) would see the sense in it.

    Progress and efficiency vs. natural beauty: the argument never ends.

  • jon

    It’s a beautiful bridge for its users. I wouldn’t necessarily want to live underneath it, nor would I want to own a gas station or shop along the old road it makes superfluous. But progress (defined by the majority) always has winners and losers.

    As to it being a way for Parisians to save vacation travel time, what’s wrong with that? I live in the US, and would hate to have to drive along all the old State Roads This and County Roads That. Give me Federally-funded and subsidized Interstate Roads and I’m a happy driver. Sometimes big government can do things that big business in France does. And I love it when they show us the value of imaginative, privately-financed projects. Nothing this bold is done in the US anymore, and that’s a shame.

  • Yesterday President Chirac proudly opened the Millau Viaduct

    Why a duck? Why a no chicken?

  • Verity

    jon – Nothing at all wrong with that. I wasn’t being sarcastic. This is the reason the bridge was built – to make it easier for people in the north to get to the Med.

    The TGV, another outstanding French engineering achievement, is also all about enabling people to travel around the country faster and more conveniently.

  • Can I just say thankyou for making me aware of this bridge? It’s a wonderful work of art. I hope we’re all mature enough that we’d be able to fairly praise it even if it was government funded. That private enterprise did this is just the icing on the cake.

  • With regard to why this new bridge was built, those who have commented on that have all said that it is to enable people to get to the south of France. It is that. But look at a map, like the one at the top right here.

    There is also the small matter of Spain to be considered. This viaduct means that there is now a new main road from Paris to Barcelona. To say nothing of all those Costas on the east coast of Spain to the south of Barcelona.

    I have friends who live just south of Perpignan, which, unlike most of the southern coast of France, is almost directly south of Millau. My friends live very close to the main road that now connects directly northwards to the new bridge. When I last visited, this road was crammed with huge lorries, going to and from Spain, from and to who knows where? France obviously, but also Benelux, Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, you name it. This bridge makes life a lot easier for these lorries.

    It certainly also makes the trip to the south of France easier for holiday makers, but not just because it gives them a nice new bit of road. It also thins out the traffic on the other big road to the south of France, way to the west of Millau, in the Rhone valley, going directly north from Marseilles.

    It also occurred to me today that the international nature of so much of the traffic on France’s big roads might go a long way towards explaining why France is so much readier to treat these roads as a profit-making, proper-price-charging business than is the UK, or the USA for that matter. UK and USA taxpayers are handed the bill for UK and USA major roads, because most of the business done on these roads is UK and USA business, at least partly. In France, I surmise, this has for many years been a lot less true. So, why should the French taxpayer give a free ride to giant lorries so many of which both came from and are headed for locations outside France? Charge them the going rate. Once you decide you want to do it that way for some road users, it makes sense to charge all the road users that way. Allez France.

    I strongly agree with what James just said. This thing is a beauty regardless of who paid for it. As was that other superbly photogenic item of Anglo-French cooperation, Concorde. However, free marketeers like me (and James) are entitled to be smug about how much less wasteful and how much more efficient the construction of the Millau Viaduct was compared to Concorde, and to be convinced that, had this bridge been built and paid for by the French government, it might have looked just as pretty, but it would have been a hell of a lot more expensive. Plus, we’d still have a while to wait before they finished it.

  • It really is a gorgeous structure. The during construction pictures threw me a little bit with the offset between the superstructure and the substructure, but they did do that ‘launching’ procedure (that since I’m not a structural engineer I don’t really understand) to get them lined up.

  • Iti is truly an awesome achievement, but the Chirac quotes were pretty priceless….

    “This exceptional opening will go down in industrial and technological history,” Chirac said, praising the designers and builders for creating “a prodigy of art and architecture -a new emblem of French civil engineering.”

    Except it was designed by a brit, and primarily constructed through an American firm.

    And of course this final gem-

    “The bridge will serve as a symbol of “a modern and conquering France”

    (scratching head)………..Ok Jacques, whatever……nice bridge you got there though…

  • Verity

    Tman, the architect was a Brit. The engineers were/are French. There’s plenty to dislike about the French, but please don’t try to take away from their achievements, which are many. Have you ever travelled on the TGV? Other than the snack bar, it is an amazing achievement.

  • Verity,
    I certainly should have been more specific. It was a cross-atlantic operation, from top to bottom and of course many french engineers and construction workers were involved. Not to toot the horn, but it was an American firm that raised the bridge itself-Enerpac

    I don’t mean to take away from their achievements, of which there are many. France is rife with architectural wonder. I was just noting the classic Gaullic behavior of Chirac in snubbing the others who were responsible for this achievement as well as somehow attributing the achievement to the “modern and conquering france”. They “conquered” those nasty traffic jams in the french countryside.

    Either way, its one hell of a bridge, no denying that…..

  • Verity

    Tman – M Chirac is a Frenchman. They snub people the way they breathe: without thinking about it. It’s all about the glorification of their beloved France. And in Britain, we have a sleazebag Tony Blair who degrades his country publically and lowers its ancient standards at every opportunity. Who would you rather have as the president of your country?

    Me? I would take Chirac. Villain that he is, he loves his country passionately.

  • Interesting Verity…….Chirac vs. Blair……I chose Bush….

    Libertarians have to select the least of many evils…..

  • Bill Dooley

    Like many Americans, I’m still rather unhappy with the French, for obvious reasons, but I won’t let that cloud my appreciation of this lovely bridge.

    Big roads have their place. I can write the directions from my current home in Reno, NV, to my childhood home in Jersey City, NJ, all 3000 miles of it, on the back of a postage stamp, thanks to the interstate highway system.

    See the sights or haul ass? It’s good to have a choice.

  • I already cant wait until some catastrophic flick utilizes it and destroys it spectacularly.

  • rvman

    I just hope the firm that built the new terminal at Charles de Gaulle had nothing to do with this thing.

  • Verity

    Lemuel Kolkava – The French would never allow such a movie to be made on French soil.

    This is one thing the French share with the Americans – the intensity of the patriotism is very similar.

  • Bolie Williams IV

    But Americans wouldn’t consider it unpatriotic to destroy a monument in a movie… on the contrary, a good disaster flick can be something of a tribute.

    Bolie IV

  • Jim

    Just to the North of the Millau Viaduct there is another bridge being built. It’s like a small replica of the Millau viaduct. Can anyone tell me which road this new bridge is being built on? There was a sign up telling me, but I forget which road it said it was an extension of 🙂

    Jim Scotland