Japan Opens Bridge Like No Other

Built to withstand an 8.5 magnitude earthquake, the world's longest suspension bridge opened in Japan yesterday. Officials said more than 5,000 cars crossed in the first hour.

The 12,831-foot Akashi Kaikyo Bridge links Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands, with the biggest main island of Honshu via Awaji Island.

The midsection length between the bridge's two massive support towers measures 6,532 feet, making it 1,906 feet longer than a span on Britain's Humber Estuary Bridge, the previous record holder.

Construction of the six-lane bridge took a decade and cost about 500 billion yen ($3.8 billion).

After opening ceremonies, the bridge opened to general traffic at 5 p.m. local time. Koichi Yamaguchi of the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Authority said 3,700 cars crossed the bridge from Honshu and 1,650 from Shikoku in the first hour. He said the authority expects 30,000 vehicles to cross the bridge daily. Cars pay a one-way toll of 2,600 yen ($19).

Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife, Princess Masako, were among the 1,300 guests at the opening ceremony, along with the construction minister. Buddhist priests were also on hand to bless the bridge.

The Honshu end is outside the city of Kobe, where an earthquake in 1995 killed more than 6,000 people and injured thousands of others.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone nations, but bridge designers have said it was built to withstand a major quake. The bases of its support towers were not damaged by the 1995 disaster.

The structure straddles Japan's Inland Sea between Akashi, a seaside city near Kobe, and Awaji Island. Another, shorter bridge extends from Awaji to Shikoku, completing the link from Honshu.

The Akashi Kaikyo Bridge and its shorter sister bridge make up one of three sets of bridges connecting the islands of Shikoku and Honshu.

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