In modern times Europe still lacked longer sections of durable road infrastructure. The fact that in 1714 the king of Sweden, Charles XII, travelled 2,200 km in two weeks on horseback was long considered an extraordinary achievement. Fortunately, continuous attempts were made to improve bridge design employing innovative solutions in bridge span and construction materials.
A wooden bridge in Venice was replaced with a stone one according to the bold idea of Antonio de la Ponte. Ponte di Rialto, with a single span of 28.8 m, is composed of rows of stalls along both sides of the bridge leading up to an elevated arch in the centre. The structure, founded on alder piles, has remained almost intact contrary to gossip concerning the doubtful security of the bridge.
In Paris, for the purposes of communication between the Louvre and the Abbey of St-Germain-des-Pres, the Pont Neuf was built in 1578-1607. It was the first stone bridge on the Seine in France which has survived to present times. The 12-span stone structure actually consists of two bridges with 7 and 5 spans resting on a mid-river island featuring a statue of Henry IV. Over a long time the bridge was considered impressive for its size (278 m long and 22 m wide) and architectural solutions such as, for example, sidewalks.
A significant breakthrough in road construction occurred only at the end of the 18th century. It started in France where Pierre M.J. Trésaguet initiated the construction of modern layered roads with a broken stone surface compacted by heavy road rollers. A similar system of road construction, called macadamized roads, was introduced in the early 19th century in the UK by a Scotsman, John L. McAdam. The real revolution in bridge construction was the groundbreaking construction of the Iron Bridge in Coalbrookdale (1779). It was the world’s first iron bridge and it had higher tensile and compressive strength than bridges built of brick. However, the arched structure with its slender ribs and delicate connectors did not reflect all possibilities of the material. Only later did visionary designs of bridges make it possible to utilize the full potential of iron. A suspension bridge across the Menai Strait, designed by Thomas Telford, connected the shore of Wales to the island of Anglesey. This magnificent work of engineering art, upon its commissioning (1826), was the longest suspension bridge in the world. The architect’s talent was recognized and he was ordered to build a similar one on the River Conwy in England. The bridge has a span of 100 m, and the main girder is suspended on 10 welded iron chains mounted on pylons, topped with interesting battlements making reference to a castle behind the bridge.
In the 19th century, significant discoveries made it possible to improve road surfaces (mainly street surfaces in cities). In 1830, a tar surface was used for the first time in England, in 1835 – asphalt surface in France, and ca. 1850 in Austria – concrete surfaces were introduced. Wooden blocks were another option. In 1870, in France asphalt and concrete mixes were used in surfacing, also on extensive sections of non-urban roads. From the 1860s in Western Europe steam-driven (and since 1902 diesel) road rollers were already in use. Around 1885 cobblestone surface was also in use. At that time, apart from innovations in the construction of roads, a boom in bridge construction was also noticeable. Clifton Bridge in Bristol (1864), designed by Isambard Brunel, consists of two towers and a suspended structure. The construction of a 414 m long bridge weighing nearly 1,500 tonnes, suspended on ponderous chains on each side, was a real effort, which is reflected by the Latin inscription at the entry to the bridge – suspensa vix via fit (“A suspended way made with difficulty”). Until 1903 the Brooklyn Bridge – the pride of New York – was the world’s longest suspension bridge and the first one built with steel cables. The Neo-gothic bridge design by John A. Roebling provided for the use of steel cables in combination with a complex network of stays radiating from the pylon or from a tall rigid truss. The project was completed in 13 years and resulted in 27 people losing their lives. The Luís I Bridge in Porto, upon its commissioning in 1886 was the longest of its type in the world (385.25 m). The two-level steel structure is a result of the hard work of an engineer, Teófilo Seyrig. The bridge is composed of two steel decks supported on arches spanning 172 m and five piers. On the other hand, the oldest transporter bridge is the Biscay Bridge (1893) designed by Albert Palacio. This impressive steel structure (164 m long and 50 m tall) is a combination of heavy iron material with lighter steel cables, which made it a model for similar bridges throughout the world. At the end of the 19th
century in London a decision was made to erect a bridge under which vessels would be able to pass. An interesting design by John Wolfe-Barry and Horace Jones reflected the style, imposed by the Parliament, which was expected to match the neighbouring Tower of London. The structure erected in 1886-1894 (from steel and stone) combines a centrally-lifted bridge with two suspension spans and two-part pedestrian decking high on top of tower supports. The Victorian-style Tower Bridge was hailed as a masterpiece of the art of engineering right from the start.