HONG KONG: A $20-billion bridge connecting Hong Kong and Macau to the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai is set to finally opens to traffic on 24th October, marking the completion of the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge ever built, nine years after construction began. However, don’t think you’re free now to just drive on down to Hong Kong whenever you so desire.
Connecting Hong Kong and Macau with the coastal Guangdong city of Zhuhai, the mega-bridge went $1.5 billion over budget and opens two years later than originally planned. Partly, this is due to the difficulty of the project. Unquestionably, the 55-kilometer (34-mile) bridge is a true modern marvel of engineering, featuring a 6.7 kilometer (4-mile) submerged tunnel passing under a busy shipping lane.
All this week, Chinese state media have been hyping the bridge non-stop with a seemingly never ending flurry of stories and videos touting the bridge’s bonafides and the continued prosperity and unity it will purportedly bring to the region.
On Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping was on hand in Zhuhai to announce the opening of the bridge. Doing that and only that, saying just a single sentence before leaving the stage.
“With the bridge, the traveling time between Hong Kong and the Western Pearl River Delta region will be shortened significantly, thereby bringing the Western Pearl River Delta region within three hours’ drive from Hong Kong,” the city’s transport secretary, Frank Chan, said Friday.
It’s possible that Xi is less than thrilled about the bridge. What state media reports leave out is the colossal amount of criticism that has surrounded the bridge with detractors calling it a “white elephant” that may harm the environment while bringing with it little benefit to the people of Hong Kong other than the double-edged sword of more tourists from the mainland.
In order to actually drive on the bridge, you must apply for a special permit with prohibitively high requirements for the average driver. For instance, an individual from Hong Kong wanting to drive to Zhuhai must have paid more than 100,000 yuan ($14,400) in taxes in China, work for a “well-recognized” high-tech company, have donated over 5 million yuan ($720,000) to a provincial charity, or be NPC or CPPCC member.
Obviously, the majority People of HK don’t meet any one of these standards, meaning that they’ll have to take a hired car or shuttle bus across the bridge. Considering that frequent ferry boats already connect the three cities, it’s unclear how much of a boon the $20 billion Bridge will really be for travelers.
Built to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake, a super typhoon and strikes by super-sized cargo vessels, the bridge incorporates 400,000 tons of steel — 4.5 times the amount in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
It also includes a 6.7-kilometer (4-mile) submerged tunnel to help it avoid the busy shipping paths over the Pearl River Delta. The tunnel runs between two artificial islands, each measuring 100,000 square meters (1 million square feet) and situated in relatively shallow waters.
While an impressive engineering feat, the building of the bridge brought its own controversies. The Pearl River Delta is home to an endangered Chinese white dolphin population that has been buffeted by massive land reclamation efforts in Hong Kong and other cities.