FRANCE– The Millau Viaduct, designed by the English architect Lord Norman Foster, crosses the cloud-covered valley of the river Tarn in Millau.

Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the Millau motorway viaduct stretches for 2.46 kilometres between two plateaux in the Massif Central mountain range will remove one of the country’s most notorious traffic bottlenecks.

The bridge will carry motorists 270 metres above the valley of the river Tarn.

Built of steel and concrete at a cost of €390 million, the bridge rests on seven pillars, one of which – dubbed P2 – climbs to 343 metres above ground level, making it 23 metres higher than the Eiffel Tower.

The bridge has already been praised as a classic marriage of aesthetics and science. More than 60,000 people have already paid for tours of the construction site.

“A work of man must fuse with nature. The pillars had to look almost organic, like they had grown from the earth,” Mr Foster said in a special edition of the local newspaper Midi Libre.

“The bridge could not look as if it had been tacked onto the scenery. It had to rise out of the landscape with the delicacy of a butterfly.”

The viaduct is not only the tallest in the world – outstripping the 282-metre towers of the Akashi Kaikyo bridge in Japan – it is also the longest cable-stayed bridge. The Tatara Ohashi bridge in Japan is 1.48 kilometres long.

The highest suspension bridge in the world – measured by distance from deck to ground level – remains the Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado, United States, which is 320 metres above the river Arkansas.

The bridge was commissioned in order to open up a new north-south route across central France and relieve pressure from lorry drivers and tourists bound for the Mediterranean and Spain in the saturated Rhone valley corridor to the east.

Travellers on the A75 motorway between Clermont-Ferrand and Beziers have been forced to a crawl as they descended to the town of Millau – best-known recently as the place where anti-globalisation activist Jose Bove smashed a McDonald’s restaurant.

Motorists will now be able to pay a fee of €4.90 to use the bridge. Lorry drivers will be charged about four times as much.

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