The 55-kilometer Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is reportedly all set to open to traffic, barring the Hong Kong section and feeder lines, which have been marred by delays, cost overruns and construction hiccups.
The Zhuhai and Macau sides were said to have been progressing toward inauguration of the bridge on May 1, but that target date has been postponed to July 1, the 21st anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to Chinese rule, as construction of the Hong Kong section has kept hitting roadblocks ranging from falsification of concrete test reports to last year’s exposé of artificial island cylinders sinking and drifting.
On a recent trip to the Zhuhai section of the bridge, a mainland official told Asia Times on condition of anonymity that even the July 1 open date could be “unattainable”, prodding the Hong Kong side to hasten road-surfacing work as well as installing boundary crossing facilities and ancillary amenities.
The official, who is based in Zhuhai, a city in Guangdong province that borders the Macau special administrative region, said the exact inauguration date had yet to be finalized by the Chinese State Council.
Highway traffic police and maintenance personnel for the Zhuhai and Macau sections have not been able to do anything but soak up the sun on the empty bridge for months since their ends of the project were completed late last year, since construction of the Hong Kong end and linking roads remains in the slow lane.
The Hong Kong government has said that the majority of its section is complete, other than some peripheral work.
Manmade marvel in the sea
Criticism of delays aside, the humongous bridge-tunnel structure that penetrates into the seabed via two artificial islands at the center of the Pearl River Estuary is second to none worldwide.
An engineering and technology marvel in its own right, the bridge section comprises precast interlocking steel and concrete deck and pier components that are aligned and bolted together, and the deck is further lifted by three cable-stayed structures above key maritime routes, with the highest pair of harp-shaped pylons piercing the sky at 163 meters.
Much of the 48 billion yuan (US$7.64 billion) splashed out for the mega-project went undersea for a 6.7km tunnel that is more than 46 meters at its deepest. Twenty-eight 180-meter-long segments, each weighing more than a conventional aircraft carrier at a whopping 80,000 tons, was prefabricated onshore, towed to the position and meticulously submerged and placed on a pre-dredged trench. Positioning error of each element is said to be within five centimeters.
A drive around the western artificial island.
The hassle of converting a bridge into a tunnel midway and reclaiming two 100,000 square-meter artificial islands was all about ensuring that maritime and aviation arteries to and out of the nearby container ports and Hong Kong International Airport were unobstructed.
“For the sake of big vessels plying the vital waterway, the [bridge deck and towers] have to be high enough, but that could exceed the height clearance for the busy Hong Kong airport, thus we looked under the water, and we thought of a tunnel,” said Gao Xinglin, assistant director of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Authority.
“Each standard element of the tunnel weighs more than an aircraft carrier,” said Tang Lijuan, of the bridge authority’s public relations department
The traffic speed limit will be 100km/h and it will take less than 30 minutes to drive from the Hong Kong checkpoint to Macau and Zhuhai via the six-lane link, and trips to other cities in the Greater Bay Area will be just a short bus hop.
A tripartite solution is being discussed to expedite clearance procedures, but unlike leasing out a portion of the Hong Kong territory to mainland Chinese border-control police at the West Kowloon Terminus of the express rail link to Guangzhou, there won’t be any similar “co-location” checkpoint arrangements at the two ends of the bridge.
It has been reported that the toll will be capped at 150 yuan (US$24) per trip for Hong Kong private cars with cross-boundary plates and the price of bus service could be around 100 yuan.