Commuters drive past toll booths for the reopened Cross Harbour Tunnel, a key route between the Kowloon peninsula, in Hong Kong early on November 27, 2019. Photo: Anthony Wallace / AFP

Hong Kong’s Victoria Cross Harbour Tunnel reopened early Wednesday morning after being shut down on Nov. 13 due to roadblocks and firebombs from pro-democracy protesters.

A strong police presence was in place on the pedestrian bridge above the toll booths. Police had placed large plastic barriers on either side of the flyover to prevent radical protesters from interrupting traffic flow by throwing anything at traffic.

Despite a suggestion by the government that tunnel fees would be waived initially, regular fees are in place at the toll booths – between HK$8 (US$1) and HK$30 to use the crossing, which links Hung Hom in Kowloon with Hong Kong Island.

The closure was part of a campaign by protesters to paralyze the city’s transport system. The Hung Hom tunnel closure created congestion at the two alternative cross-harbor crossings – Eastern Harbour and Western Harbour.

RTHK reported that the reopening had eased travel time for many commuters. Trista, a student, said the closure of the tunnel had added half an hour to her commute from Hong Kong Island to Sha Tin.

“For the past days, I’ve taken the MTR and changed bus in Causeway Bay,” she told RTHK. “For today, the tunnel is open. Now I only have to change one time, so it’s more convenient.”

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said on Tuesday that the quick reopening of the tunnel was a “miracle.” He had earlier floated the idea of opening the tunnel for free while work continued on toll booths, but this was not deemed necessary in the end.

Cheung said approximately 800 employees worked for 100 hours to get the tunnel ready to be used again safely. “The site was like a war zone attacked by bombs,” he said in the South China Morning Post. “It’s really a miracle that all the equipment is now ready for operation.”

All four lanes of the tunnel, as well as seven automatic and nine manual toll booths, were operational on Wednesday morning. Main roads connecting to Hung Hom and Wan Chai were also open.

Diane Wong Shuk-han, deputy director of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, said 42 tons of debris were cleared from the tunnel and nearby roads, the SCMP reported.

“We have sprayed water and detergent to remove tear gas residue, oil stains and other toxins,” she added in the SCMP.
Cheung did not give an estimated cost of the repairs, saying the priority was to ensure safety when the tunnel reopened. He said its fire prevention, ventilation and other monitoring systems were damaged, and parts of the highway leading to the crossing also had to be repaired.

Chief Secretary Cheung said there was little that could be done to protect the tunnel from comparable vandalism in the future, but police were prepared to step in if required.

The Cross-Harbour Tunnel is the city’s most widely used of three tunnels, with about 110,000 private and public vehicles crossing daily.

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