China’s President Xi Jinping launched the world’s longest sea bridge connecting Hong Kong, Zhuhai on mainland China and Macau on Tuesday, shortening a previously four hour road trip to just one hour.
The 55-kilometre sea link, which includes a snaking road bridge and underwater tunnel, links Hong Kong’s Lantau island to mainland China’s Zhuhai and the casino enclave of Macau, across the waters of the Pearl River Estuary.
The new link promises to be a boon for logistics, particularly as the bridge links the production centres of the Pearl River Delta to Hong Kong directly adjacent to Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), but most freight companies remain cautious, taking a wait-and-see attitude citing questions around the efficiency and procedures of Customs on the Chinese mainland side.
Critics of the HKD 120 billion (USD15.4 billion) bridge that has been dogged by a two-year delay, massive cost over-runs, corruption prosecutions and the deaths of construction workers, say it is an unnecessary mega-project and one that brings China’s dominance over Hong Kong into even sharper focus. Many Hong Kong residents also fear the city will be further swamped by tourists from mainland China.
Xi announced the bridge officially open at a ceremony also attended by Hong Kong’s and Macau’s city leaders at a new port terminal in the southern mainland city of Zhuhai.
“I declare the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge officially open,” Xi said as digital fireworks exploded on a screen behind him in an indoor ceremony, before leaving the stage immediately. He did not address the audience.
Stanley Chiang Chi-wai, chairman of the Lok Ma Chau China-Hong Kong Freight Association, said it would be difficult to estimate how many of Hong Kong’s 13,000 cross-border trucks would use the bridge in the future.
“It could be a third cheaper to move cargo on the bridge, about HKD 4,000 (USD 510) per trip,” Chiang said, adding that this could be competitive with or cheaper than shipping services, according to the South China Morning Post.
The bridge will not be open for private cars however, unless they obtain a special permit. Most drivers will have to park their cars at either end and switch to shuttle bus or special hire cars to make the journey.
Built to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake, a super typhoon and strikes by super-sized cargo vessels, the bridge incorporates 400,000 tonnes of steel in its construction. The link also features a 6.7 km tunnel that runs between two artificial islands, each measuring 100,000 sqm, to make allowances for the busy shipping lane in the Pearl River Estuary.