Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Cable Stay vs Suspension Bridges
Name: Carter
Status: student
Grade: 6-8
Location: SD 
Country: N/A
Date: 2/1/2005

What kind of bridge out of beam cable stay arch and suspension holds the most weight? How much weight do each of them hold?

Well, it depends on the distance you have to span. To span a medium distance (500 to 2500 feet), a cable-stayed bridge takes less cable than a suspension bridge and the deck can be constructed out of precast pieces that can be fabricated on land. (The longest cable-stayed bridge in North America is the new Cooper River Bridge in Charleston, SC, which spans 1546 feet.) So, if you define strength as the weight carried per pound of cable, the cable-stayed bridge is stronger under these conditions.

On the other hand, for very long spans (2500 to 7000 feet) a suspension bridge is more efficient. At some point, the towers for a cable-stayed bridge become too tall and have to carry too much weight, making them impractical. For example, the longest suspension bridge in the world, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan spans 6432 feet and has towers that rise 710 feet above the roadway. The Cooper River Bridge's towers are approximately 375 feet tall at the roadway. So, the Akashi Kaikyo's towers are less than twice as tall as the Cooper River's, even though its span is more than four times longer.

As far as the total weight these bridges can carry, I am not sure. But, each of the main cables on the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge has a tensile strength of 138 million pounds, which is equal to 1720 fully loaded tractor-trailers or 25,800 Chevrolet Suburbans. The Cooper River Bridge has 128 cables that can each carry more than one million pounds.

Andy Johnson

How big is big? Meaning what are the limits? Frank Lloyd Wright proposed a building one mile high. Usually there is some piece of the puzzle that imposes the limits. It has been said, structural engineering is the task of getting the loads and forces down into the ground. Sears Tower was possible in Chicago, because of the quality and presence of, reasonably close to the ground surface, sound rock. Similarly, there could be designs for either type bridge of comparable lengths, heights etc. the foundation may pose the limit. Construction materials and techniques may limit portions of the design. So there is no easy answer to your question. Another point, President Kennedy issued a challenge to put a man on the moon. Humans had to design and create the materials to perform the task. So, saying something is not possible, or has a limit, also could be wrong. So far man has been able to conquer problems.

Here is a web site describing suspension bridges, note the advantages and disadvantages.

bridge - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

James Przewozink

Click here to return to the Engineering Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory