Hong Kong is no stranger to major infrastructure projects: Chek Lap Kok International Airport, Hong Kong Disneyland, the West Kowloon Cultural District and – recently finalised – the redevelopment of the old Kai Tak Airport site. Projects have proceeded through boom and bust, SARS and bird flu. Whether it is tower blocks or entertainment complexes, the Special Administrative Region's appetite for building, bigger, higher and longer sees insatiable.
And now – the daddy of them all – a Y-shaped bridge and tunnel link between Hong Kong, Macau and the Chinese mainland at Zhuhai – in total around 50 kilometres of high-speed roadway, costing close to $11 billion and due to open in 2016.
The massive project, the longest bridge-tunnel sea crossing in the world and certain to be hailed as a modern wonder, is being constructed jointly by the Hong Kong and Macau governments, the provincial government of neighbouring Guangdong Province and the central authorities in Beijing. Its aim is to give momentum to the economic life of the area by slashing the travelling time and expense of carrying freight and passengers between the two sides of the Pearl River Estuary.
Principal Project Coordinator for the Hong Kong section of the work, James Shiu-on Chan, says at present land transport between Hong Kong and Macau involves a 200-kilometre detour taking in the Humen Bridge further up the Pearl River Estuary, a journey of around four hours.
"Water transport is also time-consuming and easily affected by bad weather. With the bridge and tunnel we will have an efficient, reliable link that will take drivers around 45 minutes at the bridge's speed limit of 100km/h," he said.
"We need this link to maintain and build on the economic cooperation between Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong and especially to promote the development of the west coast of the Pearl River [the Macau side] which is lagging behind that of the eastern side.
"It will also widen the area of economic development and enhance the general competitiveness of the Pearl Delta in relation to other parts of China."
Work on the Hong Kong side of the project involves the creation of a 150-hectare artificial island close to the Chek Lap Kok International Airport at Lantau. A similar artificial island is being constructed off Zhuhai on the other side of the delta. These will contain immigration and passport controls (still needed between Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland) and large areas for coach and car parking.
One issue of concern is a flood of private cars using the bridge into the old city of Macau, whose ageing infrastructure will not be able to cope.
"Cars will be discouraged for Macau visitors," Chan said. "We plan to operate a park and shuttle bus service."
He is careful to point out that environmental considerations have been taken into account. "All our contractors must produce an environmental plan before they are allowed to start work," he said.
"As an example, there have been concerns about the effect construction will have on the Chinese White Dolphin [elsewhere known as the Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin] which frequents the estuary where salt water meets the fresh.
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About the Author
Graham Cooke has been a journalist for more than four decades, having lived in England, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia, for a lengthy period covering the diplomatic round for The Canberra Times.
He has travelled to and reported on events in more than 20 countries, including an extended stay in the Middle East. Based in Canberra, where he obtains casual employment as a speech writer in the Australian Public Service, he continues to find occasional assignments overseas, supporting the coverage of international news organisations.