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Optical Illusion Plays Tricks on Bridge Stability

Friday, March 12, 2021

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At the beginning of the month, officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation were reportedly assuring local residents on the stability of a bridge in Raleigh.

The bridge was opened in December, following a widening project from Interstate 440 East to I-40 East.

According to several reports made by drivers, a wall which appeared to be supporting a flyover bridge from I-440 West to I-40 East was slightly leaning. However, the sudden interest in the structure’s stability wasn’t new, as Robert Bullock, a resident engineer overseeing the I-40 widening project, reported that multiple people had inquired about the bridge’s leaning wall last year.

Bullock stressed to concerned travelers that the bridge was safe for drivers to drive over and under, saying that, “We continue to monitor it like we do a lot of the walls to make sure we don’t have any issues.” To explain the apparent illusion, Bullock said that because the wall was built on a slight curve, in addition to the roadway itself being on a curve, combined with the height of the structure, there are two or three visual angels that make the bridge appear like it could be leaning or curving more than it should.

“The first part of the wall, sort of the wings area, the part as you are coming up, the contractor did build it a little straighter, so there is a slight turn some people notice, but other than that, that’s what creates some of that illusion, a visualization as of why it may seem to lean forward.”

A spokesperson for NCDOT, Marty Homan, also chimed in on the reassurance of the structure’s safety, saying, “The wall has been inspected several times over the last year, and we have found no issues to date.”

Optical Illusions in the Industry

Another bridge known for its optical illusions is a glass bridge spanning the Yellow River in China, as the structure is adorned with three-dimensional murals that are custom-made for selfies. Opened in July 2017, the Shapotou Suspension Bridge’s glass bottom renovation is the first of its kind on the Yellow River, and was put in place due to increased interest from tourists in such attractions.

Located in Zhongwei, Ningxia Province, the bridge sits at 1,076 feet long, featuring 61 panels of normal glass and 77 panels of glass with 3D-printed images. Each option creates a spectacular view for photography, with someone looking as if they are standing right above the river’s rushing waters, or standing right over a 3D-printed waterfall.

The Shapotou Suspension Bridge was originally built in 2014, and with the increase in tourist interest in glass-bottomed bridges, site management decided to repave the bridge with glass, noted Daily Mail Online. This resulted in two-thirds of the bridge walkway being replaced with glass, while the rest remained wood.

The bridge is 8.5 feet wide and is suspended 33 feet above the Yellow River.

Since then, artists have tackled creating optical illusions using a more familiar approach: paint. In 2018, Street artist David Louf—more commonly known as Mr. June—finished a number of urban projects showcasing his 3D-style murals on various pieces of infrastructure and cityscape.

Colossal recently reported that Louf just completed an entire building in Berlin with his signature process: using a laser to sketch the surface’s main lines and then painting abstract overtop. The artist’s website features photos and videos of his work, most recently a design on the roof of a water tank in Greensboro, North Carolina, that he calls “an ode to the beauty of water.”

Louf reportedly painted the 45-meter-in-diameter water tank roof in 13 days.

In 2019, for the 30th anniversary of the Louvre’s iconic glass pyramid, French street artist JR created an optical illusion that made the pyramid look like it was sinking into a chasm below. To celebrate its anniversary, JR and 400 volunteers cut and pasted 2,000 strips of paper to make the collage surrounding the artwork. According to JR’s website, this was the biggest pasting ever done by an artist. The work measured around 17,000 square meters.

The installation was dubbed “The Secret of the Great Pyramid.”


Tagged categories: Bridges; Bridges; Department of Transportation (DOT); Health & Safety; NA; North America; Roads/Highways; Transportation

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