ON TUESDAY, China will inaugurate what will be the world’s longest sea bridge, at 55 km. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, to be opened to the public on Wednesday, will also be the sixth longest bridge of any kind. The new sea bridge will connect the east and west sides of the Pearl River Delta of the South China Sea. Zhuhai is a city on the Chinese mainland, which will be connected with the two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau. A look at the bridge’s features, and significance to China’s politics:
Parts of the whole
The structure includes a dual three-lane, oversea stretch (22.9 km) and a undersea tunnel (6.7 km) which reaches a depth of 44 m. The rest of the bridge runs over land. The two ends of the tunnel are connected to two artificial islands, each a million sq ft, constructed in shallow areas of the Pearl River Estuary to allow transit between the bridge and tunnel sections. The undersea tunnel is made of a chain of 33 submerged hollow blocks, each 38 m wide, 11.4 m high and weighing 80,000 tonnes.
The bridge contains 400,000 tonnes of steel and is designed to withstand a magnitude-8 earthquake and strikes by super-sized cargo ships. It will cut travel time from Hong Kong International Airport to Zhuhai from 4 hours to 45 minutes. The trip between Kwai Chung Container Port (Hong Kong) and Zhuhai is expected to come down from about 3½ hours to 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Objective & criticism
China has promoted the structure as a key component of its plans to develop a “Greater Bay Area”. This area will be a business hub comprising Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities of Guangdong province. The Greater Bay Area will aim to rival New York and Tokyo in terms of technological innovation and economic success; Beijing believes the bridge will play a vital role in facilitating the creation of a single market. President Xi Jinping is expected to attend the ceremony in Zhuhai Tuesday, without travelling to the Hong Kong side.
Many critics look at the bridge as a political statement asserting China’s control over Hong Kong and Macau. Both are former European colonies, handed back to China in the late 1990s, and are run under the “one country, two systems” principle, which allows them to retain their systems of government independent of China for 50 years. The bridge will put the three cities within an hour’s commute of each other, and is expected to boost economic development.
There have been concerns that the project will affect the ecology of the area. Sightings of the White Chinese dolphin have gone down drastically after the project was started. Safety concerns had also been raised after reports that the artificial islands had drifted. According to the Association for the Rights of Industrial Accident Victims, 10 construction workers have died, and more than 600 have been injured.
The project was initially conceived in 2003, and construction began on December 15, 2009. Its total cost, according to authorities, is now 120 billion yuan ($17.3 billion). This has been shared in different proportions by the Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau governments. The bridge was originally slated to be opened in 2016.
Before construction began, it was estimated that 33,000 vehicles would cross the bridge every day. In 2016, this was re-estimated to 29,000 vehicles a day. There will be 24-hour shuttle bus services among the three cities running every five minutes during peak hours, every 10-15 minutes during the non-peak period, and every 15-30 minutes overnight.