The Great Belt Bridge is part of the fixed link across the Great Belt in Denmark . The link consists of a road suspension bridge and railway tunnel and a box girder bridge between the Danish islands of Zealand and Funen. The suspension bridge, known as the East Bridge, has the world’s third longest main span (1.6 km).
The Great Belt Bridge replaces the ferry service which had been the primary means of crossing the Great Belt. Previously taking about an hour by ferry, the Great Belt can now be crossed in about 10 minutes. The design was eventually carried out by the architecture practice Dissing Weitling together with the engineering firm COWI. After more than five decades of speculation and debate, the decision to construct the link was made in 1986 and was opened to rail traffic in 1997 and road traffic in 1998.
The construction of the fixed link across the Great Belt became the biggest building project ever in the history of Denmark. On an 18 kilometre stretch between Halsskov on Zealand and Knudshoved on Funen there was built a two-track railway and a four-lane motorway, aligned via the small islet Sprogoe in the middle of the Great Belt. In general terms, the project comprised three different construction tasks: The Eastern Bridge for road transport, the Eastern Tunnel for rail transport and the Western Bridge for road and rail transport combined.
The Eastern Bridge, with its free span of 1,624 metres, is the world’s second largest suspension bridge. The vertical clearance for ships is 65 metres. At 254 m above sea level, the Eastern Bridge’s two pylons are the highest points in Denmark.
The Western Bridge between Sprogoe and Funen is 6,611 metres long, and has a vertical clearance for ships of 18 metres.
The twin bored tunnel tubes of the Eastern Tunnel are 8 kilometres long each. Between the two main tunnels there have been established 31 connecting tunnels at 250 metre intervals. The equipment that is necessary for train operation in the tunnels has been installed in the connecting tunnels. The connecting tunnels also serve as emergency escape routes.
In 1991, Finland sued Denmark at the International Court of Justice, on the grounds that Finnish-built mobile offshore drilling units would have been unable to pass beneath the bridge. The two countries negotiated a financial compensation and Finland withdrew the lawsuit.
Prior to the opening of the link, an average of 8,000 cars used the ferries across the Great Belt every day. In 2000, an average of 20,600 cars travelled the link each day. The increase of the traffic volume is partly caused by the general growth of traffic, partly diversion of traffic volume from other ferry services, and finally the so-called traffic leap, that is, new traffic generated by the improved ease, facility and low price of crossing the Great Belt.