Everything you know about the Royal Gorge Bridge is wrong
Except that the bridge isn't 1,053 feet high. And it's no longer the world's highest bridge. It's not even second.
Eric Sakowski of HighestBridges.com ranks the Royal Gorge Bridge as the 11th highest bridge in the world, although three of the bridges are under construction and haven't been completed yet.
The Royal Gorge Bridge quietly lost its title in 2001 thanks to a massive highway building program in China. It was first trumped by the Liuguanghe Bridge at 975 ft. high. Last year, on Nov. 15th, the Siduhe River Bridge opened and set the new world record at 1,550 ft. high.
Meanwhile, despite the tourist brochures stating otherwise, the Royal Gorge is not over a thousand feet high. The exact figure is still open to debate, but is well short of the 1,053 figure that everybody knows. Using a laser rangefinder, Eric Sakowski measured the height of the deck above the Arkansas River as 955 ft. Walt Lambert, engineer for the bridge's rehabilitation in 1983-84, reported a height of 968.4 ft.
After hearing about the HighestBridges.com website, officials at Royal Gorge recently took their own measurements and came up with a figure of 969 ft. I bet they aren't too thrilled about this revelation. The Colorado Springs Gazette quotes a spokeswoman for the bridge saying that the 1,053 figure was probably measured to the top of the towers. She said, "As far as we know, we're sticking with our 1,053 feet over the river."
However, if "height to the top of the towers" is the accepted measurement, then this means that the Royal Gorge is still trumped by another bridge, the Millau Viaduct in France with one tower rising over 1,100 feet.
I must confess a certain amount of glee about the Royal Gorge Bridge getting its comeuppance. I refuse to pay $24 per person just to visit a bridge, even if the ticket includes admission to other attractions. Come to think of it, Royal Gorge might hold the record as the world's most expensive toll bridge.
The height isn't the only problem with the bridge's reported measurements. During the 1980s rehabilitation, Walt Lambert discovered that the length of the main span was actually longer than everyone thought. The span length had always been accepted as 880 feet, a figure that the original designer, George Cole, had used in a 1930 article about the bridge.
The actual measurement is 938 feet, a number confirmed by Eric Sakowski using a rangefinder and then later by spot-checking with a tape measure.
Reportedly, George Cole's brother performed the original site survey and erroneously measured a distance of 880 feet between the proposed towers. The error wasn't discovered until after the towers were built. Cole covered for his brother and pretended that the length was 880 feet. In order to pay for the extra decking required by the longer span, it was necessary to fudge the accounting numbers and add bogus cost overruns to the steel used in the towers.
It's amazing that Cole was able to maintain the cover-up for so long, but nobody had any reason to question him. He built the darn thing, after all.
Now that the Royal Gorge Bridge has been scrutinized, I wonder what other famous bridges harbor engineering secrets? Has anybody independently verified the length of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway?