Differences in building and engineering standards between Hong Kong and mainland China as well as a myriad of technical and construction hurdles were eventually overcome and the 55-kilometer Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is set to open by the end of the year.

The chief engineer of the bridge, which dwarfs every other bridge across the world, said in an interview that his team had to reach compromises on the yawning gap in ideology and standards between Hong Kong and mainland China to keep the mega project on track.

Lin Ming, from the main contractor, the state-owned China Communications Construction, said the years of cut and thrust and kerfuffle between the two sides were history, now that cross-boundary vehicles were about to start plying the colossal bridge and tunnel structure.

Lin told the Hong Kong-based Ming Pao Daily that mainland engineers and technicians struggled to get to grips with the logic and modus operandi of their Hong Kong counterparts, who inherited rules and red tape from the British era.

He admitted that the eight years of cooperation was never short of debates and back-and-forth on all issues ranging from construction scheduling to things as small as peripheral landscaping.

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Gigantic pylons for the bridge are erected in the middle of the Pearl River estuary. Photos: Xinhua, China News Services
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One section of the six-lane motorway to a bridge-tunnel and artificial island. Photo: Xinhua

The project’s hefty outlay of 48 billion yuan (US$7 billion) would be footed by Hong Kong, Macau and China’s Guangdong province in a tripartite deal, which also stipulated that for the sake of efficiency, the construction of the main part of the bridge – including a 6.7km tunnel section as well as two artificial islands – should be carried out by mainland contractors and watchdogs.

Lin noted that the Zhuhai-based bridge authority maintained the final say in all issues so construction would not be hamstrung by the oversight and due diligence requested by the Hong Kong side.

However, he acknowledged that Hong Kong’s input and co-management also brought mainland engineering standards closer to the international level.

Deputy Chief Engineer Yin Haiqing also added that the authority was flexible in adopting the highest possible construction standards in the three jurisdictions. For instance, the design life span of the bituminous and concrete components and trusses of the bridge was 120 years versus the mainland’s prevailing 100-year standard.

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The dotted line in the middle represents the 6.7-kilometer tunnel section of the bridge.

Yet Lin lamented the subtle bigotry by Hong Kong officials throughout the project, even after the mainland’s way of getting things down had been shown to be effective and cost-saving.

During the reclamation work on Hong Kong’s boundary crossing facilities, the city’s Development Bureau opted for the Japanese technique of installing steel sheet piles on the seabed to form cellular structures to support an artificial island, rather than the mainland innovation of piling prefabricated circular steel cells to form a stable foundation.

The latter was a groundbreaking method that greatly expedited the creation of two bridge-to-tunnel islands in the mainland waters.

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The island housing immigration and customs facilities on the Hong Kong side. Photo: Google Maps

The construction of the 150-hectare, HK$35.9 billion (US$4.58 billion) island to house the immigration and customs facilities on the Hong Kong side, however, was beset with delays, cost overruns and industrial accidents. Lin said many of the mishaps could have been avoided if the mainland’s approach was used.

Another moot point was the lighting of the two tunnel islands.

The Hong Kong side was said to be up in arms about the bridge authority’s plan to install a pair of high-powered searchlights as well as some 600 LED lamps on the two islands, fearing the light beams piercing the night sky could disrupt operations at the nearby Hong Kong airport.

About seven million yuan went down the drain as the plan was eventually shelved, even though the Hong Kong side never came up with proof the lights could dazzle pilots at night.

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