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What Is a Cantilever Bridge?

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  • Written By: Laura Metz
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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A cantilever bridge is constructed using cantilevers, which are horizontal structures supported only on one end. With the right materials and engineering, a steel truss cantilever bridge can span well over 1,500 feet (460 m). This type of bridge has been used for pedestrians, trains, and motor vehicles. Cantilevers are especially useful for spanning a waterway without dividing it with river piers.

Engineer Heinrich Gerber built the first cantilever bridge in 1867. He had invented the hinge girder just one year before. With this new invention, Gerber was able to lengthen the cantilevers and build a bridge that was long enough to cross Germany’s Main River.

As of 2010, the Quebec Bridge in Canada holds the record for the longest single cantilever span. The simple cantilever bridge is 1,800 feet (549 m) long. In Scotland, the Forth Bridge is another famous cantilever bridge. Made of steel, the Forth Bridge uses balanced cantilevers on river piers and on land to make a combined span of 3,300 feet (1,006 m).

Cantilevers must be firmly anchored on one side in order to hold up the necessary weight on the free standing side and avoid shear stress. A common example of a small cantilever is a diving board. One side is firmly attached to the ground so that the other side can hold a person’s weight suspended over the water. Cantilevers must resist tension in the upper supports and compression in the lower.

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Sometimes, a gap or waterway is too wide to be spanned by one cantilever on each side. In this case, a beam bridge or truss bridge is often placed between the arms of the two cantilevers, connecting them into one bridge. This type of bridge is known as a suspended span bridge.

A balanced cantilever is another technique for spanning long distances. In this situation, engineers construct a pier in the middle of the river. They then anchor two cantilevers on the pier, each facing the opposite direction from the other. These cantilevers, or anchor arms, meet with other cantilevers anchored in the ground or another pier to create one whole bridge.

The first step in building a cantilever bridge is to build and connect the arms to the shore. River piers for balanced cantilevers should not be built until the cantilevers that touch the land are completed. If a beam bridge or truss bridge is necessary, it cannot be added until the cantilevers are ready. The beam bridge is often built off-site and lowered with a crane into position.

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Izzy78
Post 4

I have always noticed that there is a certain fascination that people have with taking pictures of cantilever bridges. I think that there is a certain something with cantilever bridge pictures that intrigues people. It may be the massive length of the bridges or it could even be the unique design of them. I feel like they seem more popular, as far as pictures go when compared to suspension bridges or arch bridges.

TreeMan
Post 3

@titans62 - I know of the bridge you are talking about and I do believe that it would be amazingly disorienting. The Foresthill Bridge is also one of the most famous and recognizable cantilever bridges in the world and can be seen in a lot of movies.

I believe there was a scene filmed on the bridge in the movie XXX where the main character escapes by parachuting off of it and I believe the wedding scene in Natural Born Killers was also filmed on that bridge. I remember in that movie that they showed a shot looking down and it was incredibly disorienting and I was an audience member watching it in a movie theater.

titans62
Post 2

@stl156 - I do not know which bridge you are talking about, but I do know of the Foresthill Bridge out west which is a cantilever bridge and is famous for being suspended over seven hundred feet above a canyon.

The Foresthill Bridge is not for trains, but rather for cars and pedestrians to pass through. I do have to say that this is quite an impressive bridge and I have to wonder how much time went into constructing such a bridge.

I could never imagine being a worker on that bridge constructing it nearly one thousand feet in the air. I bet it would be very disorienting looking down.

stl156
Post 1

Many people have seen a cantilever bridge and probably did not even notice it. One of the more famous cantilever bridge is a bridge out west that a train uses to cross a canyon. I cannot remember the name of this bridge, but I was always impressed with the construction of the bridge and how cool it was. I really wish I could remember the name.

There are also other famous cantilever bridges such as the Niagra catilever bridge which spanned nearly one thousand feet. It was later replaced by another cantilever bridge, but this design was revolutionary and a very cool picture to take.

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