Three common types of bridge design.—© Merriam-Webster Inc.

Structure that spans horizontally to allow pedestrians and vehicles to cross a void. Bridge construction has always presented civil engineering with its greatest challenges. The simplest bridge is the beam (or girder) bridge, consisting of straight, rigid beams of steel or concrete placed across a span. Ancient Roman bridges are famous for their rounded arch form, which permitted spans much longer than those of stone beams and were more durable than wood. A modern version of the arch bridge might have a trussed arch anchored to the abutments and a deck hanging from the arch by vertical cables. Suspension bridges (e.g., Brooklyn Bridge, Golden Gate Bridge) are capable of spanning great distances; their main support members are cables composed of thousands of strands of wire supported by two towers and anchored at each end, and the deck is suspended by vertical cables hung from the main cables. In cable-stayed bridges, cables fan out and down from a central tower to various points on the deck; variations of this design have resulted in bridges of striking design and very long span. Other bridges include the truss bridge, popular (e.g., for railroad bridges) because it uses a relatively small amount of material to carry large loads, and the cantilever bridge, typically made with three spans, with the outer spans anchored down at the shore and the central span resting on the cantilevered arms.

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