Here is a fun fact to stick in the back of your mind for trivia night or to use as an interesting ice breaker: the Amazon River has no bridges. None. Zero. Zilch. That is in spite of the fact that the Amazon is 4,345 miles long.
The Amazon has a river basin that covers 2.7 million square miles. It has the highest flow and discharge rates of any river on Earth. It runs through multiple countries and dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. In all of that, there is not a single bridge that crosses the river at any point. You cannot drive over the Amazon River, even if you wanted to.
Why is it that the Amazon has no bridges when other smaller rivers have dozens or even hundreds?
Geography and Economics
The Amazon River is one of the most remote rivers on Earth. It plunges from a source that is nestled high in the mountains at nearly 18,000 feet and then runs through one of the largest and thickest jungles found anywhere. The result is there are not very many paved modern roads that run along the Amazon.
In fact, if you take a quick glance at the map, there are only a handful of towns and cities that are even large enough to register that is located on the banks of the Amazon.
So the Amazon is remote, and so are a lot of other rivers. Why not just one bridge? A single bridge.
The economics just don’t make sense. First, anyone living along the Amazon has an established way to cross the river already. Locals use boats, rafts, and barges to navigate the river and cross the water. Some of these river crossings have been in use for decades or even centuries. Many locals do not see a bridge as a major upgrade over established river crossings that work just fine.
Second, since there are no major roads around the Amazon, getting material out to build a modern bridge would be time-consuming and expensive. Sure, it could be done but is the payoff worth it? In order to recoup the money, the bridge would likely have to be tolled, and few people would choose a toll bridge over other forms of river crossings.
Lastly, there simply is not an appetite for this kind of infrastructure in the rainforest. Construction would be noisy and disruptive. Locals don’t see a benefit in it. The government would lose money on funding a bridge. Private investors wouldn’t be able to recoup their costs without tolls or concessions. Large projects in hostile environments, such as the Amazon, usually tend to bog down, run over in terms of cost, and can be extremely dangerous.
The Amazon is wet, filled with bugs, critters, and disease, and has extremely soft marshy soil. Any bridge would need to have deep foundations and very large pilings driven far into the river bed in order to be effective. All of that adds up to time, money, and material, and none of those things are easy to manage in the Amazon rainforest.
Current and Future Projects
There are a couple of bridges that span the Amazon's tributary rivers. One such bridge is located in Manaus, the largest city along the Amazon. But the bridge doesn’t cross the main expanse of the river. There is another bridge crossing a large Amazon tributary in Peru.
President Bolsonaro of Brazil has repeatedly said he wants to build a bridge over the Amazon, but detractors say it would be for his legacy and serve no real purpose. No progress has been made on the Brazilian Amazon bridge proposal.
In fact, every bridge proposal targeting the Amazon has stalled and gotten nowhere. No one has even attempted to break ground which shows how stiff the headwinds are to such a project. Many bridges have been dreamed up, but so far, none have become reality.
It is odd to think that in 2022, over a hundred years since people dug out the Panama and Suez Canals, no one has managed to build a bridge across the Amazon.
Resistance to bridging the Amazon can be summed up in this way.
- Too remote
- Too expensive
- No public support
And that is it.
These three factors continue to work in tandem to prevent any bridges from becoming a reality. In the meantime, the Amazon continues to flow for thousands of miles, largely undisturbed by human infrastructure.