The numbers that reveal the grandiosity of the world’s largest sea bridge, which opened in China.
A bridge of $ 20 billion, covering 55 km, is considered a marvel of engineering. Its construction, however, was marked by delays and security problems that led to the death of at least 18 workers.
The Aerial views can only show part of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge in Hong Kong.
Chinese President Xi Jinping officially inaugurated the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge nine years after construction began and amid criticism that the project – designed to boost economic growth – is nothing more than a “white elephant” and that caused “serious damage” to the marine life in its surroundings, in addition to deaths of workers.
Including the access roads, the bridge covers 55 km and connects Hong Kong to Macao and the Chinese city of Zhuhai.
The structure cost about $ 20 billion and recorded several delays in the schedule. Its initial term of completion was the year 2016, which was delayed due to the shortage of labor and construction materials.
The work was also marked by security issues – at least 18 workers died in service.
Xi attended the opening ceremony, which took place in Zhuhai on Tuesday with the leaders of Hong Kong and Macao. The bridge will open to regular traffic on Wednesday.
What is so special about this bridge?
The crossing connects the three main coastal cities in southern China – Hong Kong, Macao, and Zhuhai.
The bridge, designed to withstand earthquakes and typhoons, was built using 400,000 tons of steel, enough to erect 60 Eiffel towers.
About 30 km of its total length crosses the sea of the Pearl River Delta. To allow the passage of ships, a section of 6.7 km in the middle plunges into an underwater tunnel that passes between two artificial islands.
The remaining sections are connecting roads, overpasses and land tunnels that connect Zhuhai and Hong Kong to the main bridge.
Why was it built?
- The bridge is part of China’s plan to create a Greater Bay Area, including Hong Kong, Macao and nine other cities in southern China – hoping to compete with those of San Francisco, New York, and Tokyo.
- The area is currently inhabited by 68 million people. And the expectation is to turn it into an economic zone with an emphasis on technology, as a kind of competitor to the Silicon Valley of the United States.
- The logistics and tourism industries are also expecting big growth in the wake of the project.
- The expectation is for a better integration between these areas, but not only that.
- The reduction in travel time it will provide between Zhuhai and Hong Kong is said to be one of the gains: the route is expected to be completed within 30 minutes.
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Can anyone cross the bridge?
No. Those who want to cross the bridge must obtain special licenses, distributed by a quota system. And all vehicles pay a toll.
The bridge is not served by public transport, but private buses will take the route. There is no railway connection.
Authorities initially estimated that 9.2 thousand vehicles would cross the structure every day. Subsequently, after new transport networks were created in the region, they reduced their estimates.
Driving through the structure promises to be a challenge: in Hong Kong and Macao, people drive to the left, as in the UK, but the rest of China drives to the right, just as in continental Europe and the US.
What are people saying about it?
The project has been the subject of much criticism.
The bridge was nicknamed the “death bridge” by local media. At least nine workers on the Hong Kong side died, and officials told the BBC that nine others also died on the mainland – hit by machinery or after plunging into the sea.
Hundreds of workers were injured and injured during the construction.
There were also problems related to environmental impact.
Environmental groups say the project may have caused serious damage to marine life in the area, including Chinese white dolphin, a species considered “critically rare” and “vulnerable.”
The number of dolphins seen in Hong Kong waters has dropped from 148 to 47 in the last 10 years, and they are now absent from the region near the bridge, according to the Hong Kong branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature.
“The project has caused irreversible damage to the sea. I fear the number of animals will never rise again,” said Samantha Lee, assistant director of marine conservation at WWF.
Officials said they “did their best” to protect the environment along the bridge.
Will the investment be recovered?
The bridge, access roads and artificial islands that make up the project cost an impressive $ 20 billion to build – the main bridge alone consumed $ 6.92 billion ($ 25.51 billion).
Chinese officials say such infrastructure will generate up to 10 trillion yuan ($ 5.31 trillion) for the economy, but a Hong Kong MP questioned that figure.
“I’m not so sure how the bridge can hold up if there are not a lot of cars going through it,” Tanya Chan told BBC News. “I’m sure we would never be able to recover.”
According to an estimate by the Chinese BBC, the bridge will only generate about $ 86 million ($ 317 million) in toll revenue per year.
A third of this revenue, however, would have to be used for maintenance costs.
Critics have called the bridge “big white elephant” that does not guarantee an economic return. Others said their main goal is symbolic, ensuring Hong Kong is physically connected to the mainland.