25 October 2016
Proposed traffic restrictions on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge mean it will be underutilized and take a long time to repay the investment in it. Photo:
Proposed traffic restrictions on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge mean it will be underutilized and take a long time to repay the investment in it. Photo:

Dim prospects of HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge breaking even

The Transport and Housing Department (THD) has made proposals for the use of the new bridge to Zhuhai and Macau that will strictly limit the number and kind of vehicles that can use it.

The restrictions mean it will take decades for the bridge to pay back Hong Kong’s enormous investment in it.

Construction of the 42 kilometer bridge will not be completed until the end of next year at the earliest, one year behind the original schedule.

On Jan. 30, at a stormy meeting, the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council approved HK$5.4 billion in extra funding, in addition to the original budget of HK$30.4 billion.

So far seven workers have died and 129 have been injured during construction.

The construction of the bridge is a severe engineering challenge, requiring the building of tunnels and bridges across the Pearl River and the creation of giant man-made islands at either end where most of the traffic on the bridge will end its journey.

In a statement on Friday, the THD said that, at the end of last year, the governments of the three places involved and bridge management officials had conducted a study that found that the bridge would not be ready for vehicles by the end of this year.

It said the project should be completed by the end of next year and that it faces serious difficulties and challenges, including an unstable supply of raw materials, lack of workers, restrictions due to aviation and to environmental requirements and sinking of the landfill into the sea.

In a submission to Legco, the THD made proposals for which vehicles will be allowed to use the bridge.

The main users will be large passenger buses that have licenses to operate in Hong Kong and Macau or Hong Kong and Guangdong.

In the first three years, the department will give six-year permits, which can be renewed once, to 300 buses.

The bus operator will be allowed to make 300 journeys per day during the first three years.

The operator will be chosen in the second quarter of this year at the earliest.

It will be a company jointly managed by representatives from the three places and receive a five-year licence that can be renewed once.

The buses will collect passengers from stops that are part of the public transport system of the three places.

During busy periods, they will leave every five minutes; during less busy periods, they will leave every 10-20 minutes.

It will also give three-year permits, which can be renewed once, to 250 large passenger rental cars.

Similarly, the cars need licenses to operate in Hong Kong and Macau or Hong Kong and Guangdong.

There will be no limit to the number of journeys they can make in one day.

On the use by private cars, the THD said this issue was still being discussed by the three governments and that there was no timetable for private vehicles with Guangdong permits to use the bridge, nor would that be suitable.

To facilitate the development of the transport and logistics sectors, the department proposes that 13,000 Hong Kong and 800 mainland cargo vehicles with permits for both places be allowed to use the bridge.

Since the Macau government does not wish to allow the entry of such vehicles into the city, they will unload their cargo on the large man-made island being built offshore; it will then be transferred to vehicles from Macau.

On the man-made island on the Hong Kong side, there will be no area for unloading cargo, because of the shortage of space.

The three parties have not agreed on the tariff for the vehicles. It will be denominated in renminbi.

These proposals address the concerns of the Hong Kong and Macau governments and people who do not want a large influx of vehicles from Guangdong onto streets that are already crowded.

So they will be welcomed in both cities.

On the other hand, they mean that the bridge will be underutilised.

Experts estimate that, in the first year, it will carry only 9,200 vehicles.

That means that it will take decades – if ever – to repay the enormous investment.

There is also a question about how many people will use the tourist buses.

It is economic for those on a group tour of Hong Kong and whose bus can take them directly from their hotel or the airport onto the bridge.

Individual travellers will have to go to the departure point on the man-made island close to Lantau Island and then take the bus.

Is it not simpler and quicker for them to go to Central and take a 60-minute ferry to Macau or go to Tsimshatsui and take a 70-minute ferry to Zhuhai?

The ferries deliver them conveniently into the center of each city.

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Hong Kong-based journalist and author. He had worked as a correspondent for the South China Morning Post in Beijing and Shanghai.

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