The countdown has begun for the long-awaited inauguration of the gigantic bridge-tunnel structure set to link Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland Chinese city of Zhuhai on the west bank of the Pearl River estuary.
The 55-kilometer Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the longest such piece of infrastructure in the world, may be ready for traffic by the end of October, having lain empty for almost a year since completion.
The three cities are planning to dispatch several hundred vehicles of all types including double-deckers and container trucks this Friday to form a convoy on the sea-crossing bridge and tunnel complex to test for the very last time its signaling and computer systems, immigration and customs preparedness, and a litany of contingency plans, newspapers in Hong Kong reported on Thursday.
Hong Kong’s government agencies responsible for transport, health and immigration, along with their counterparts from Macau and Zhuhai, will simulate scenarios including a sudden spike in passengers going across the bridge and emergency and rescue responses to mock accidents during the drill that will end on Sunday evening.
If all goes well, in late October, on a date yet to be decided, a limousine will possibly carry Chinese President Xi Jinping from Zhuhai to Hong Kong to open the link officially to traffic. His deputy, Premier Li Keqiang, is also tipped to officiate at the opening ceremony if Xi’s schedule for next month is too packed. In 2009 Li, in his then capacity as a vice-premier, attended the bridge’s construction commencement ceremony.
The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post also noted that Vice-Premier Han Zheng, who is in charge of Hong Kong and Macau affairs as a standing member of the Communist Party of China’s supreme decision-making caucus the Politburo, may ceremonially open the bridge.
The US$8 billion bridge is set to transform the hour-long ferry rides from Hong Kong to Macau and Zhuhai into a 30-minute bus hop. Vehicles will travel beneath the sea by way of a 6.7km tunnel under the middle of the estuary, while container ships ply the waterways and cargo and passenger planes buzz the airspace above.
“After the conclusion of the ceremony, the state leader, or the VVIP as he is referred to in our plan, will travel along the bridge and drop by Hong Kong and go through the customs and immigration facilities on an artificial island built off the city’s airport island,” the source told the SCMP. It is thought that the top leader is unlikely to stay in the city overnight and that details of the itinerary could be subject to change.
Just last week, Hong Kong celebrated the commencement of cross-boundary express rail services that plug the city into China’s still expanding 25,000km high-speed rail grid.
The express rail link and the new bridge are earmarked to drive the city toward deeper economic integration with Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and other cities in Guangdong province to form a world-class economic dynamo known as the Greater Bay Area.