When it opens next year, the 30 kilometer bridge from Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau will be the longest over the sea in the world.
It will cost more than HK$130 billion (US$16.8 billion), of which Hong Kong is paying HK$83 billion.
But the question is: who is going to use it?
At the end of last year, only 45,000 vehicles had the right to drive in both Hong Kong and Guangdong province, and there is strong opposition here and in Macau to issuing more driving licenses.
Work on this pharaonic project began in December 2009.
It presents enormous engineering challenges – build a structure that can withstand the typhoons and heavy rains of the summer and an undersea tunnel seven kilometers long under one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, in the Pearl River Delta.
At 27 meters, it is one of the deepest tunnels in the world.
The bridge has 23 kilometers of viaducts and three cable bridges.
Those who take the Jetfoil to Macau and Zhuhai, the adjoining city in Guangdong, can see the bridge rising out of the water like a giant sea dragon.
Along with the high-speed train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, the bridge is part of Beijing’s national plan to knit together all corners of the country, from Heilongjiang province in the north to Hainan Island in the south, with the most rapid forms of transport.
It is a political as well as an economic bridge.
Beijing also wants to build a tunnel or a bridge to Taiwan – but this is a project for the future.
When the planners drew up the design for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, they considered rail on one deck and road on the other but then decided against that combination for technical and financial reasons — no rail links existed at any of the bridge’s three ends.
That left motor vehicles as the only form of transportation.
In a written reply in the Legislative Council on Wednesday last week, Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, the secretary for transport and housing, said that, based on the existing quota of private cars that can be driven in both Hong Kong and Guangdong, traffic volume on the bridge will be 9,200 in 2016, 15,350 in 2020, 27,400 in 2030 and 35,700 in 2035.
Cheung said that, at the end of last year, the number of coaches, hire cars, private cars, mainland official and company vehicles and Hong Kong government vehicles with the double licenses was 31,403, up from 29,133 at the end of 2012.
In addition, 13,552 goods vehicles held such licenses at the end of last year, down from 14,362 at the end of 2012.
“The two governments have said publicly that the second phase of the trial scheme [that is, Guangdong private cars entering Hong Kong] would be implemented at an appropriate time, with no specific timetable … This is subject to further deliberations by experts from both sides,” he said.
“In formulating the arrangements for the second phase, we will listen to the views from different sectors of the community and garner support from the Legislative Council.”
Many individuals and companies in the province would like such a license.
Yang Guolin, who runs a taxi firm in Zhuhai, said the right to drive in Hong Kong would be of enormous benefit to his business, “but this license is very hard to obtain”.
The problem is that the people of Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai do not want more vehicles from outside on their already congested roads.
So what will happen after the bridge opens is that many cars and tourist buses from Hong Kong will leave their passengers in giant car parks on a man-made island being built offshore from Macau; those from Zhuhai and Macau will do the same on a 150 hectare island close to Chek Lap Kok airport.
From there, local vehicles will pick them up — which means travelers will have to break their journey.
Those travelling from Kowloon and the New Territories must add the time to cross the harbor and proceed to the location near the airport where their vehicle can get onto the bridge.
The journey by Jetfoil to Macau takes 60 minutes, and to Zhuhai, 70 minutes. The boats leave from prime locations, in Central and Tsimshatsui, and arrive in the centre of the two cities.
So the total journey time via bridge or Jetfoil may be about the same.
The boats to Zhuhai display a notice above the entrance saying: “We have no traffic jams.”
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