President Jacques Chirac inaugurated Europe's highest bridge yesterday, a creation taller than the Eiffel Tower, longer than the Champs Elysées and designed to end a traffic...

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MILLAU, France — President Jacques Chirac inaugurated Europe’s highest bridge yesterday, a creation taller than the Eiffel Tower, longer than the Champs Elysées and designed to end a traffic bottleneck in southern France.

Stretching 1.6 miles through France’s Massif Central mountains, the bridge will enable motorists to take a drive 891 feet above the Tarn River valley.

Conceived by British architect Norman Foster, the slender white viaduct in the picturesque Tarn Valley will provide a new motorway link between Paris and the Spanish border, easing congestion in the Rhône Valley during the busy summer months.

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As Chirac inaugurated the bridge, fighter jets roared overhead. He hailed the viaduct as a “marvel of art and architecture,” a monument to French engineering genius that was a “miracle of equilibrium” and projected a bold, successful, modern image.

“The Millau Viaduct is a magnificent example, in the long and great French tradition, of audacious works of art, a tradition begun at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries by the great Gustave Eiffel,” Chirac told a reception.

The engineering feat has drawn rapturous praise for its elegant lines, which allow it to blend seamlessly into the surrounding region famed for its gorges, medieval villages and Roquefort cheese.

It is expected to channel an average of 10,000 vehicles per day, with peaks of 25,000 during the summer holidays.

The highest of the bridge’s seven concrete pillars rises 1,122 feet, making it the tallest bridge tower in the world and 53 feet higher than the Eiffel Tower.

“Our company has done a lot of construction over the years, but this project surpasses everything we have done so far,” says Jean-Pierre Martin of Eiffage, the French group that built the bridge.

Martin, who was in charge of the building process, notes that “the pillars can swing a bit from left to right, and the road surface may wobble and wiggle a bit, but all within limits.”

But extensive testing has been done: A huge convoy of 28 trucks drove up and down just before its opening. They made it.

Eiffage financed the bridge for 300-400 million euros ($399 million to 532 million). Revenue will be generated by tolls.

Eiffage has a 75-year concession to operate the viaduct and has guaranteed the structure for 120 years.

Colorado’s Royal Gorge Bridge, spanning 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River, is the world’s highest suspension bridge.

Compiled from Reuters, Christian Science Monitor and Associated Press reports.