Why this problem-plagued bridge leads to nowhere

April 11, 2016 09:08
Construction of HMZB began in December 2009 and it was due for completion this year but  engineers have found the task more difficult and complicated than they planned for. Photo: Internet

Things are not going well for the bridge that will link Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai. It is greatly over-budget, faces serious technical challenges and is at least one year behind schedule.

And there are serious concerns over how many vehicles are going to use it.

Now there is another piece of bad news. Beijing has approved construction of a 24-km. bridge over the Pearl River Delta linking Zhongshan and Shenzhen.

The first two rounds of tenders have just closed and construction should begin later this year.

It involves an investment of 42.4 billion yuan (US$6.57 billion). It will take five years to build, so completion is planned for 2022 or 2023.

It will be a direct competitor to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HMZB), offering drivers of passenger and cargo vehicles on the two sides of the Pearl River Delta an easy alternative.

The bridge will link to the Guangzhou-Shenzhen expressway on one side and the future Kaiping-Zhongshan expressway on the other.

“Currently, to go from Zhuhai to Shenzhen, Dongguan and Hong Kong, we must use the Humen Bridge in Nansha,” said Yang Lijun, a taxi driver in Zhuhai.

“That means driving 40 minutes from here, almost to Guangzhou. The new bridge will be quicker and more convenient.

“The fee on the Humen bridge is 45 yuan. We expect the one on HMZB to be more than 100 yuan, even 200. Then there is the question of who will be allowed to use it. As things stand now, drivers like me in Zhuhai will not be able to,” he said.

The catchment area of the new bridge will be the major cities on the western side of the Pearl River Delta, including Heshan, Kaiping, Jiangmen, Zhongshan and Zhuhai.

These are exactly the cities which HMZB is designed for.

The new bridge will be 47.2 meters wide and have eight lanes, with a maximum speed for 100 kilometres per hour.

According to its design, it will cut driving time from Shenzhen to Zhongshan to 20 minutes.

The Zhongshan Daily reported that, from the second half of last year, many residents of Shenzhen had come to Zhongshan to inquire about buying property to escape the high prices in their own city and enjoy the greener and more comfortable environment of Zhongshan.

“More and more Shenzhen people will settle here. The unification of the two cities will have a population basis,” it said.

Construction of HMZB began in December 2009. It was due for completion this year but the project been delayed until the end of 2018.

Engineers have found the task more difficult and complicated than they planned for.

Last November, Howard Winn Reports said that it appeared unlikely the project will be completed before 2021, due in part to difficulties in construction of the Hong Kong Boundary Cross Facilities that are being built on reclaimed land.

Suppliers of construction materials say they have been told by their customers working on HKBCF projects that they are running up to five years late, according to Howard Winn Reports.

The reclaimed island is in open waters northeast of Hong Kong airport and anchors an undersea tunnel crossing. The Highways Department said last September that the island had moved about seven meters off-center since construction began in 2014.

The latest budget is HK$117 billion (US$15 billion), of which Hong Kong is paying 42.9 per cent, Guangdong 44.5 per cent and Macau 12.6 per cent.

In Hong Kong, there is widespread skepticism over the project, over the number and type of vehicles that will use the bridge and the impossibility of getting a return on such an enormous investment. Why is the money not being spent on small projects with a guaranteed economic or social return?

Since neither Hong Kong nor Macau wants vehicles from Guangdong on their roads, the number will be severely limited, ruling out drivers like Yang.

Going the other way, Guangdong license plates are expensive and difficult to obtain for Hong Kong and Macau residents; they are mostly restricted to people who run factories and businesses in the province.

The new Zhongshan-Shenzhen bridge, on the other hand, will be open to all vehicles; the fee will certainly be lower than that of HMZHB. Technically, it is easier and quicker to build.

But Beijing is determined to complete the bridge, whatever the cost. The 13th Five-Year Plan for Guangdong includes “accelerated construction of the HMZB and the Shenzhen-Hong Kong high-speed railway.”

Which of the two bridges will you bet on?

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.