The longest bridge constructed to connect mainland China with Hong Kong and Macau is hailed as a unique feat of engineering performed by the Chinese. The bridge will connect Hong Kong and Macau with Chinese city Zhuhai and will tremendously reduce the travelling time from three hours to just 30 minutes making life easier for commuters. The bridge took nine years to build at a cost of $20 billion suffering from many cost-overruns and consistent delays.
Owing to the vast sea-water over which it is built, the bridge is designed to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake, a super typhoon and strikes by super-sized cargo vessels. The massive structure has taken 400,000 tons of steel worked out to be 4.5 times the amount in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
It is also estimated that the bridge needed 60 times more steel than used to build the Eiffel Tower and includes a four-mile undersea tunnel connected by two artificial islands. The structure includes a 6.7-kilometer submerged tunnel to help it avoid the busy shipping paths over the Pearl River Delta. The tunnel runs between two artificial islands, each measuring 100,000 square meters (1 million square feet) and situated in relatively shallow waters.
The 55-kilometer (34-mile) bridge was originally planned to open in 2016 but it was hit by repeated delays that pushed its opening by two more years. The construction of the bridge is a major element in China’s plan for a Greater Bay Area covering 56,500 square kilometers (21,800 square miles) across southern China, encompassing 11 cities, including Hong Kong and Macau. These areas are inhabited by 68 million people and they will be integrated by mainland China after a long effort.
The sheer size of the bridge is breathtaking as it is the only kind to be built up to now. It is estimated that the bridge will be in use for 120 years but there are likely to be restrictions on usage. The indications of restrictions are already visible as private car owners in Hong Kong will require a permit to use the bridge but people will have access to shuttle buses.
Most drivers will have to park at the Hong Kong port, switching to shuttle bus or special hire cars once they are through immigration. Shuttle buses cost $8-$10 for a single trip depending on the time of day. This almost super-human effort saw seven workers losing their lives during its construction and 129 were injured.
The bridge, however, has met criticism mounted by residents of Hong Kong who are not keen to be connected with mainland China. They are afraid that Hong Kong will be swamped by tourists from mainland China putting tremendous pressure on their local economy and resources.
Hong Kong already hosts larger tourist traffic yearly than the UK as it was visited by 56.7 million tourists compared to 37.6 million for the UK, a much larger country. They also suspect that the bridge will provide an opportunity to China to drag their democratically-run city into Chinese opaque communist system of governance.
Talha Mansoor is an advocate