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Tall ship Belem passing under the sixth bridge, Rouen cathedral in distance.

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Pont Gustave-Flaubert: the 6th bridge at Rouen

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The sixth bridge
Pont Gustave Flaubert, Rouen
The bridges of Rouen
Structural statistics
End notes

The Pont Gustave Flaubert being raised for the first time. Image credit: Pierre Albertini
The Pont Gustave Flaubert being raised for the first time, April 2006.
Image credit: Pierre Albertini

the sixth bridge

Rouen is France’s largest river port, as well as being one of its largest seaports, being 121 km from the open sea. The city is sited on both sides of a large loop of the River Seine, which snakes in wide loops on its way through the region of Haute-Normandie on its way to the English Channel (la Manche).

A new bridge was needed in Rouen to allow traffic coming from the A150 and A151 to the north-east of Rouen, to reach the port zone to the west of Rouen and the A13 autoroute to the city’s south, without having to go through the city centre. The bridge location chosen ensures that it is the last crossing before the river flows to the open sea. The bridge serves a similar purpose to that of the venerable Tower Bridge in London: providing a visit break between port and city.

The tall ship, The Belem, passing under the Pont Gustave Flaubert in April 2007. Image credit: Pierre Albertini.
The tall ship, The Belem, passing under the Pont Gustave Flaubert in April 2007.
Image credit: Pierre Albertini

Several designs for the bridge were considered, but only one resolved the constraint that large (or tall) vessels should continue to be able to approach the next bridge along towards central Rouen, the Pont Guillaume le Conquérant - William the Conqueror Bridge. Every five years, Rouen is host to one of the largest meetings in the world, the Armada, of the biggest and most beautiful tall ships - multi-masted sailing vessels. A bridge was required that would allow these magnificent ships to still be able to reach the Quays [les quais] alongside the Seine at Rouen. The new bridge design would also enable full-size cruise liners to approach Rouen more closely. The location would also provide a symbolic ‘door’ between the city and its port. The chosen design - a rising, or vertical lift, bridge - will be the largest bridge of its type in Europe. The Pont Gustave Flaubert [Gustave Flaubert Bridge] is due to open to traffic [mis en service] in the Spring of 2008. The bridge’s name was chosen after a poll of Rouen inhabitants.

In this vertical lift bridge, the twin roadways are raised and lowered by heavy steel cables that run over pulleys on the ‘butterfly’ pulley heads that rest at the top of two sets of twin supporting pylons.

Raising one of the 'butterfly' heads onto its supporting pylon.
Raising one of the ‘butterfly’ heads onto its supporting pylon.

Running the cables over one of the 'butterfly' heads
Running the cables over one of the ‘butterfly’ heads
Transporting one of the roadways up the Seine.
Transporting one of the roadways up the Seine.

Swinging the second roadbed into position.
Swinging the second roadway into position.
Positioning the second roadway onto the bridge.
Positioning the second roadway onto the bridge.

Attaching the cables between 'butterfly' head and roadway.
Attaching the cables between ‘butterfly’ head and roadway.

Credit for images: Domino TV

In Bordeaux, on 17 March 2013, a new vertical lift bridge will be opened.


Pont Gustave Flaubert, Rouen

At the end of 2006, after polling Rouen inhabitants [who are called Rouennais], a name was decided for the sixth bridge at Rouen. The sixth bridge became the Gustave Flaubert Bridge. The actual vote percentages were

  • Pont Gustave Flaubert 40 %
  • Pont de Rouen 36 %
  • Pont Cavelier de la Salle 24 %

Gustave Flaubert was born at Rouen in December 1821. He was a writer, his first novel Madame Bovary, published in 1857, is probably his best known work. He was known for his particular attention to detail and his quest for chosing le mot juste - the right word.


the bridges of Rouen

Sketch map of riverside Rouen, marking the bridges

From inland, the direction of Paris, going towards the English Channel:

  1. Pont Mathilde - Mathilde Bridge, 1979. 585 metres long, it passes over the Lacroix Island;
  2. Pont Pierre-Corneille - Pierre Corneille Bridge, 1952;
  3. Pont Boieldieu - Boieldieu Bridge, opened in 1955. The 19th century version was painted 16 times by the artist Pissarro, following Monet’s idea for painting Rouen cathedral and other subjects - in many versions, at different times of day, and in different weather and light conditions.
Boieldieu Bridge, Rouen painted by Camille PissarroBoieldieu Bridge, Rouen painted by Camille Pissarro

Boieldieu Bridge, with Rouen cathedral beyond. This Boieldieu Bridge was destroyed in 1940.
Boieldieu Bridge, with Rouen cathedral beyond. This Boieldieu Bridge was destroyed in 1940.

  1. Pont Jeanne d’Arc - Joan of Arc Bridge, 1956;
  2. Pont Guillaume le Conquérant - William the Conqueror Bridge, 1970;
  3. Pont Gustave-Flaubert, rising bridge, under construction.

There is also a railway bridge, the Viaduc d’Eauplet, also called Pont aux Anglais - Eauplet Viaduct/English Bridge, a little further upstream.

All of the completed bridges have been built (or re-built) since the end of the Second World War. The Boieldieu bridge, a transporter, or suspended car, bridge and the Viaduc d’Eauplet were destroyed by the French in 1940 in their attempts to slow the invading German troops. Later, Rouen was served by several Bailey bridges until the replacements could be built.

The transporter bridge at Rouen was opened in 1898 and destroyed on 9 June 1940. [French: pont transbordeur.] The nacelle, or gondola, can be seen just above the water, beyond the steam ship and towards the left of the picture.

The transporter bridge at Rouen,opened in 1898 
        and destroyed on 9 June 1940.

[Note: Paris has 35 bridges!]


Structural statistics

  • 25 September 2008: Opening of bridge to road traffic
  • 15 April 2007 : bridge first raised for water traffic
  • June 2004 : Construction work started
  • Expected traffic: 55,000 vehicles a day
  • The Pont Gustav Flaubert links the exit of the A150 (motorway/autoroute between Rouen and Barentin) and the Sud III ring road [rocade] - RN 338, A13 (to the south of Rouen), A29 (to the northof Rouen).

  • Architects : François Gillard; Aymeric Zublena, architect of Stade de France and Istanbul Olympic Stadium
  • Consultant design engineer: Michel Virlogueux, architect of Pont de Normandie, Millau viaduct, the Ile de Ré bridge, Vasco de Gama bridge in Lisbon, as well as the Stade de France at Paris
  • Structural conception : Bernard Gausset, Michel Moussard
  • Mechanical engineer : Jean-Pierre Ghilardi, Eurodim
  • Civil engineers : Eiffage Construction
  • Metal construction : Eiffel Construction Metallique and Victor Buyck Steel Construction N.V.
  • Foundations : Presspali France

  • 86 m : Height at top of pylons (the heighest lifting bridge in Europe)
  • 7 m : Height of roadway over the Seine when lowered (sufficient to allow barges)
  • 55 m : Height of roadway over the Seine when raised
  • 670 m : Total length of roadway including approach roads, makes the Gustav Flaubert Bridge the longest lifting bridge in the world
  • 116 m : Length of mobile section
  • 2600 tons : load capacity
  • Length of cables: 6 kilometres
  • 30 to 40 times : predicted average number of times roadway will be raised every year
  • 12 minutes : time to raise roadway
  • Road traffic is diverted over the Pont Guillaume le Conquérant during the 1½ hours when the bridge is raised.

  • 450 tonnes : Weight of ‘butterfly’ pulley head
  • 66 m : height of ‘butterfly’ pulley head
  • 1200 tonnes : weight of each roadway. Counter-balances within the pylons reduces the load lifted to only 350 tonnes.
  • concrete and metal: construction materials

  • Won the national Grand prix for engineering in 2006
  • Won the Metal Construction prize in 2007

  • 60 million euro : cost of bridge
  • 137 million euro : total project cost (includes approach roads)
  • Financing is shared -
    state: 27.5%; region: 27.5%; department (Seine Maritime): 35%; Rouen agglomeration: 10%
Franklin: Writings by Benjamin Franklin, with  J. A. Lemay, editor

Le pont Gustave Flaubert à Rouen
by Jérôme Lallier
[text in French]

Textuel, 2008
ISBN-10: 2845972520
ISBN-13: 978-2845972520

Jérôme Lallier is a Rouen-born photographer, taking pictures of the Pont Gustave Flaubert project since 2005.


end notes

  1. The name of the city of Rouen started life as Ratuma or Ratumacos, its Celtic name. This was modified by the Romans into Rotomagus. Then further changed into Rodomum by writers of medieval Latin. The modern city name is a corruption of Rodomum.

  2. Transporter bridge
    This type of bridge is also known as a suspended car bridge, or ferry bridge, or aerial transfer bridge, the French term is un pont transbordeur. Such a bridge has two tall metal pylons with a horizontal travelway fixed high above the river. A gondola is suspended from an electric shuttle that runs along the travelway, providing transport across the river, while still allowing sailing ship traffic. I am aware of at least twenty-two transporter bridges built around the world, six being in France [Bordeaux, Brest, Marseille, Nantes, Rochefort, Rouen, and a minature one at Montceau-les-Mines] and five in the UK.

    Eight transporter bridges are still used today, though the one at Duluth, Minnesota in the USA, built in 1905, was converted in 1930 into a traditional lift bridge. Functioning transporter bridges include the Rochefort-Martrou Transporter Bridge at Rochefort, Charente-Maritime in France, the Vizcaya Bridge at Portugalete, North Spain, Newport and Middlesborough in the United Kingdom, and two in Germany - at Rendsburg and Osten (Oste).

    The two US transporter bridges no longer exist (well the Duluth does, but as an airial lift bridge). The other US transporter bridge was built for the 1933 World Fair at Chicago and was called the Sky Ride. It was more of a ride, with 12 double-decker cabins called “Rocket Cars”, similar to those on the London Eye. It was demolished in 1934. The first transporter bridge ever built was the Vizcaya Bridge in north-western Spain, completed in in 1893. It still functions at Portugalete near Bilboa.
    Nacelle (gondola) on the now defunct Marseilles transpoter bridge

  3. There is a vertical lift bridge at Sacramento, California, called the Tower Bridge. It spans the Sacremento River at ‘M’ Street on Highway 40. The bridge was opened in 1935. Then, it cost $1 million and it was one of the highest lift bridges in the world. Like the Hoover Dam, this project created jobs during the Great Depression - in this case, 1,500.

    The lift span weighs 2,300,000 pounds, counter balanced with an equal weight.
    The lift span is 200 feet long and at flood stage it has 100 foot clearance.
    The towers are 180 feet/55 metres high.

    The lifting deck rises using only two electric-powered, one hundred horse power motors housed in cabins at the top of each of the towers. The deck can rise to the maximum height of 173 feet at a speed of 1 foot per second. This also allowed the towers to be parallel to each other, helping its streamlined look.

    The bridge was beautified by the lift towers being sheathed in bolted and riveted quarter inch plate steel, so creating a streamlined effect. The counterweights were similarly treated. (This technique was later used on the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge.) The counterweights were hidden in concrete-filled steel frames. Thus, with much of the working parts concealed, the Tower Bridge had a sleek, aesthetically pleasing appearance.

    Tower lift Bridge, Sacremento [linen postcard]

    Although this bridge was originally designed to have four road lanes and a central rail lane, it currently is only used for vehicles and pedestrians.

    For decades, the bridge was painted silver, but there were continuing complaints of its glare. In 1975, the bridge was painted yellow ochre. The next colour chosen, by competition, was gold. Painted in 2002, it is to last 30 years.

  4. Bailey bridges are prefabricated metal bridges invented and developed during the 2nd World War by English engineer, Donald Bailey (1901-1985). The parts are transported and assembled in place, more sections being added if a wider water course has to be bridged. In Normandy, about 1,000 Bailey bridges were built, mostly in conjunction with the Allied D-Day invasion.

    “[...] no part was heavier than a 6 man load so small teams could carry on building a bridge even under air attack and heavy gunfire. Crucial time was saved by having the panels assembled on rollers. The first part or nose was put together with the decking or roadway omitted. The bridge proper was built on this nose and the whole was moved forward on rollers as the panels were assembled. The Bailey bridge was actually crossing the gap as it was being built.” [Quoted from Stockport Libraries.]

  5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, 1821-1880

$8.76 [], 2005
£3.19 [], 2004

  1. paperback
    ISBN-10: 0192840398
    ISBN-13: 978-0192840394





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