On October 24, 2018, one of the most important bridges of the future in the world saw the light: Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau, 55 kilometers of bridges, underwater tunnels and four artificial islands.
9 years of work, 18 billion euros, guaranteed duration of at least 120 years and different qualities:
- It can withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake and a collision with a super cargo ship;
- Cut travel times from 3 hours to 30 minutes;
- The drivers' heart and pressure are monitored all the way: information is sent to the bridge control center;
- If a driver yawns more than 3 times in 20 seconds, a special camera goes on alert.
- The whole system is set up (and structured) to take advantage of 5G.
It is the last in order of time, but the first of the next megaprojects that will redefine the world as we know it.
4 bridges of the future
Our engineering skills grow year after year. New methods, new materials, new ways of calculating will allow us to obtain results never possible even just a few years ago. Among the major challenges that are currently being planned, four bridges of the future in particular will have a monumental strategic importance.
Bridge over the Bering Strait
Building a system of bridges and tunnels across the Bering Strait can exponentially accelerate trade between North America and Asia. Difficulties in the construction of the route will be compensated by enormous benefits.
The route that seems to be the most probable for the bering channel at the moment is the one that connects the Chukotka Peninsula in Russia and the Seward Peninsula in Alaska: exactly halfway, as a foothold, the Diomede Islands.
The basic idea of building this close link between Siberia and Alaska (40km in all, but crucial) dates back to 1890, when William Gilpin, first governor of Colorado, proposed it. In that case it was part of a larger project, a sort of "global railway" that would connect all the world cities. A stage, the most important, would have passed just behind the frozen bering strait. Siberia to Alaska, so to speak.
Two years later Joseph Strauss, who already had over 400 bridge projects under his belt (and the role of project leader of the Golden Gate in San Francisco) put forward his proposal to the government of the Soviet Empire, but was rejected. The fear was linked above all to the economic aspects: connecting all the small islands between Alaska and Siberia would have been like crossing the bering strait asphalting it in width and length with a concrete mixer. Impossible. Then the layout changed.
When in 1905 the Russian Tsar Nicholas II finally approved the project, the Russian revolution and the First World War put everything back in the drawer.
In recent years, other proposals have arisen, including a futuristic and ambitious line of fast trains from Manchuria to the United States (almost 10.000 kilometers!) Which would include an underwater part right under the Bering Strait.
The Russian side of the Strait lacks embarrassing infrastructure. The district of Siberia is a real frozen desert: for 3000 km there are no railways, and the first road (unpaved) is 1900 km away. However, in 2008 Vladimir Putin approved a plan to build a railroad that will reach the Strait by 2030.
On the American side, Alaska is also a large state with few roads: about 1200 kilometers are needed. The closest major city is Nome, with only 3500 inhabitants, 160 kilometers from the Strait. There are no means of communication between Nome and other cities.
Costs: the most substantial voice that slows down the "Bering tunnel", one of the most interesting bridges of the future, is this. To complete it, given the difficulties, it will take 60 to 90 billion euros.
Bridge of the Darién
In 1937 North America and South America signed the Pan-American Highway Convention, an agreement to build a link between the cities of the member countries. For the next twenty years an elaborate road system was built, but not completed. The missing piece is a thin strip of about 80 kilometers that connects Panama to Colombia. That area is known as the "hole" of the Darién.
The entire highway now consists of 30.500 kilometers of roads from Alaska to Argentina: a mammoth work that is not complete for that one missing piece, chock full of mountains and overhangs.
The fauna: the emptiness of Dariém is rather impractical: dense jungles, impenetrable mountains and lethal fauna (snakes, cougars, crocodiles, caimans and spiders).
Drug: Many rulers are against opening a new channel because they fear offering an easy passage between the two Americas to drug traffickers.
The underwater bridge between Japan and Korea is a project open some time ago for a connection of about 200 kilometers that passes above and below the Korean strait using the islands of Iki and Tsushima as intermediate points of support.
Also in this case the proposal is a long one: it dates back to 1917, and has gone through phases in which the departure was given for imminent others of total abandonment.
costs: Each of these bridges of the future, as you may have understood, costs a lot because it has problems to face: in this case the problem is the type of processing that needs to be developed. To build a section of bridge and tunnel that respects the specific geological conditions of that area, the cost estimate exceeds 90 billion euros, a figure that currently discourages both countries.
The image could mislead you: despite the small distance between the two sides, the construction of a bridge over the Strait of Gibraltar requires extremely sophisticated engineering skills.
The Strait of Gibraltar separates Europe from Africa. A distance of only 14 and a half kilometers. Yet this small stretch of sea (ocean?) Presents very tough challenges in terms of construction, design and material physics. The narrow bridge of Gibraltar aims to overcome them.
In 1979 the governments of Spain and Morocco established a committee to investigate the possibility of connecting the two continents. Over the years a number of projects have been proposed, and the governments of the two countries are very interested, but so far no concrete plans have been launched.
The final project would be 40 kilometers (including two parts on the mainland and the underwater connection) 300 meters below the ground, and would take 15 years to complete at a cost of between 10 and 25 billion euros.