When, in August 1954, the then mayor of Bordeaux, Jacques Chaban-Delmas (who was also France’s minister for Public Works) made the decision to build this bridge, there was one sole means of crossing the Garonne in Bordeaux: the Pont de Pierre in the city centre, which had been completed in 1822. By the end of the 19th century, the city was outgrowing this single crossing and plans were laid to build a second bridge. In 1910, work began on a transporter bridge only to be terminally interrupted by the First World War. 33-bordeaux.com documents how far they got...
Work on the much-needed suspension bridge began in 1960. The construction company Bernard Campenon were following the designs of architect Jean Fayeton. Initially referred to as “le Grand Pont de Bordeaux”, the bridge was officially inaugurated with great pomp and ceremony (as well as a well-attended public dance) on May 6th 1967. It even got its own postage stamp! However, it missed out on its status as the second road crossing over the Garonne. To the south of the city, the more basic Pont Saint Jean had been built far more swiftly between 1963 and 1965!
Le Grand Pont delivered satisfactorily until, upon inspection in 1979, steel cables were found to have snapped in fourteen different places due to wear, tear and corrosion. The figure rose to 68 in 1984, 173 in 1993 and continued to escalate until 1998, by which time something clearly had to be done if the bridge was to continue operating. The whole suspension system was therefore replaced between 2000 and 2005.
During that time the deck was also extended from 2x2 to 2x3 lanes, taking up the full available width between the pylons. The extensive roadworks heavily affected the traffic, even though total bridge closures were only scheduled at night. Fortunately, the Bordeaux infrastructure had continued to flourish, with Pont Mitterrand (known as Pont d’Arcins when it was opened in 1993) to the south of the city now catering for much of the northbound and southbound through traffic.
The Pont d’Aquitaine’s vital statistics make for impressive reading. The main span measures 393.7 metres and the side spans 143 metres each. A 1-kilometre viaduct (pictured below) connects the bridge to ground level on the left bank, making the whole structure around 1,700 metres in length. The reinforced concrete pylons are 105 metres high, and the deck sits 58 metres above the surface of the river.
Every day, more than 100,000 vehicles use the bridge, travelling at up to 70 kilometres per hour (the speed limit is enforced by speed cameras) while a couple of narrow (1m70) cycle paths on either side of the bridge provide cyclists with fine views over the Garonne and Bordeaux itself. If approaching from the west, the pedalling is hard work though: on the viaduct section the gradient is a steadily demanding 4.7%... which also makes for a hair-raising freewheeling descent in the other direction!
|The view facing south, with Bordeaux in the distance and the new Bacalan-Bastide bridge taking shape to the left.|
|The view from the bridge's northern flank, looking towards the left bank of the Garonne and the Lac district, site of the future sports stadium.|
- Find it: Pont d'Aquitaine, Bordeaux/Lormont
- Construction work in progress can be seen here and here.