Arch bridges are one of the oldest types of bridges. The oldest known bridge in the world known to still be in use is the Caravan Bridge, a stone arch bridge across the Meles River in Izmir, Turkey. It was built in 850 B.C.
Roman engineers built many arch bridges, quite a few of which are still standing. Probably the most famous is the Pont du Gard, an aqueduct bridge in southern France. Built in the first century A.D., it features three tiers of limestone arches and stands 48 meters high and 275 m long.
The Alcantara Bridge, a stone arch bridge built by the Romans in Spain in 106 A.D., has been repaired numerous times after suffering damage during various wars, but it is still serving pedestrians. It is 45 m high and 182 m long.
The oldest bridge in the city of Rome itself is the Pons Fabricius, a 62-m-long stone arch bridge over the Tiber River, built in 62 A.D., that is still in use by pedestrians.
Many arch bridges from the Medieval and Renaissance periods are still functioning as well. The Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, consists of three segmental arches: The main arch has a span of 30 m, and each of the two side arches spans 27 m. It was rebuilt in 1345, replacing earlier versions that were destroyed by flooding.
One of the architectural icons of Venice, Italy, is the Rialto Bridge, erected in 1591 over the Grand Canal. Built of white marble, it features two ramps leading to a central portico.
The first arch bridge to be made of cast iron, the Iron Bridge in Shropshire, England, opened in 1781 and is still in use by pedestrians today.
There are three major types of arch bridges. The oldest is the deck arch bridge, or common arch bridge, in which the bridge deck is on top of the arch. The stone arch bridges built by the Romans are of this type.
The use of cast iron and steel enabled engineers to develop the through arch bridge, where the bridge deck travels below part of the arch, and is suspended from cables or tie bars. Eight of the ten longest arch bridges in the world (see related slide show) are of this type (the other two bridges are both deck arches).
The third major type of arch bridge is the tied arch (or bowstring arch), where the horizontal forces of the arch are borne as tension by the bottom chord (the deck itself, or tie rods), rather than by the ground or the bridge foundations. The longest tied arch bridge in the world is the Caiyuanba Bridge in China, with a main span of 420 m.
One of the most noteworthy arch bridges built in the U.S. in recent years is the Hoover Dam Bypass (officially named the Mike O'Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge). Completed in 2010, it soars 323 m across the Black Canyon on the Arizona-Nevada border directly downstream from the Hoover Dam. It features a composite design, using concrete for the arch and columns and steel construction for the roadway deck. At a height of 270 m above the Colorado River, it is America's longest single-arch concrete crossing, and also the second highest bridge in the U.S.
It was designed by a team led by HDR Inc., that included Jacobs Engineering unit Sverdrup Civil and T.Y. Lin International. It was built by a joint venture team of Obayashi Corp. and PSM Construction USA Inc., a unit of PS Mitsubishi Construction Co. Ltd. The team erected two 330-m-tall lattice-framed cableway towers that supported 3-in.-dia. cableways that maneuvered the precast concrete arch segments into position.
The world's longest cathedral arch bridge is the Galena Creek Bridge in Nevada. Its main span is 210 m. It opened in 2012. Cathedral arch bridges are structures in which the vertical load bearing occurs only at the peak of the arch.
One of the most significant bridges currently under construction in India is the Chenab Bridge, a railway bridge in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. A 1.3-km-long span, it will consist of two ribbed arches of steel trusses and will have a main span of 469 m. At 359 m above the riverbed, it will be the tallest rail bridge in the world when it is completed in 2016.
In Dubai the United Arab Emirate's Roads and Transport Authority has plans to build a world-record-length arch bridge, to be called the Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Crossing. Its main span will be 609 m, and it will carry six lanes of traffic in each direction and a metro line over Dubai Creek. It has been designed by FXFOWLE. The project has been on hold for several years.