Chinese President Xi Jinping headed south to Guangdong’s coastal city of Zhuhai and set foot on the 55-kilometer Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge on Tuesday morning. But first he presided over an inauguration ceremony held inside the mainland port area, a much-hyped event also attended by two deputy premiers as well as top officials from Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau.
It took 50,000 workers and engineers, 120 billion yuan (US$17.3 billion) and almost a decade to construct the colossal bridge-island-tunnel complex. It becomes the first span stretching across the Pearl River Estuary to connect Hong Kong to Macau and the mainland city of Zhuhai.
The world’s longest sea-crossing will officially open to traffic at both ends at 9 am on Wednesday.
It is reported that Xi’s motorcade hopped onto the bridge immediately after the ceremony and purred across the boundary between mainland and Hong Kong waters.
He also toured the two, 100,000-square-meter artificial islands created in the middle of the tidal mouth, where the highway disappears underwater into a 6.7-km tunnel. This avoids the link interfering with the region’s vital maritime traffic as well as taking it clear of the busy airspace frequented by passenger and cargo planes.
The huge bridge is Xi’s pet project, seen as vital in closing the geographical gap and plugging the two former European colonies of Hong Kong and Macau into his grandiose vision for the Pearl River Delta. This master plan seeks to mold a region of sprawling cities and a manufacturing powerhouse into what he calls a “Great Bay Area” to rival New York, Tokyo and San Francisco.
Vehicles travel on the right on the bridge, the opposite side from traffic in Hong Kong.
A one-way bus ride to Macau may cost HK$65 (US$8.3) per person, and private car drivers with cross-border permits to use the bridge will need to pay a toll of 150 yuan (US$21.6) for each trip, according to a tentative pricing regime gazetted by Hong Kong and Guangdong authorities.
Details regarding public transportation via the bridge and permits for private car owners and driving directions can be found here.
Media ballyhoo and the big opening bash notwithstanding, a slew of new crossings, tunnels and high speed rail links proposed or being built to straddle the Pearl River has already overshadowed the prospects of recouping the hefty investment.
Projected daily traffic flow via the six-lane bridge over the next decade has already been slashed to fewer than 30,000 vehicles between Hong Kong and Zhuhai, a third of the route’s capacity, yet operation and maintenance expenditures are feared to soar to more than two billion yuan a year.
The eight-lane Shenzhen-Zhongshan link, some 20 kilometers upstream, is set to divert much of the traffic flow when the new project is up and running in 2024.
The Hong Kong government has been forced to look at ways to boost the bridge’s usage and study the feasibility of building large car parks within its port area to woo tourists from the affluent Guangdong province. Planners hope these big spenders might visit in their private cars, which they will park near the border and use public transportation to get to downtown attractions.