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.

1123600281_15402693610221n
Chinese President Xi Jinping announcing the opening of the bridge on Tuesday morning. Photo: Xinhua

1540277999_c09a
Xi (second, right) and Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam are seen entering the venue of the opening ceremony. Macau’s leader Fernando Chui is seen in the background. Photo: Handout
Screenshot 2018-10-24 at 1.44.54 PM
Representatives of constructors and engineers pose for a group photo after the opening ceremony. Photo: Xinhua
1123600843_15403140948761n
Xi (left) takes a tour of a lookout platform atop the bridge’s eastern artificial island while being briefed on the construction and maintenance of the project by an official with the bridge’s administration team. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, her Macanese counterpart Fernando Chui, Deputy Premier Han Zheng  and other officials are seen in the background. Photos: Xinhua

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.

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 7.57.39 PM

Screenshot 2018-10-24 at 1.45.35 PM

FOREIGN201810240954000081830783688
The road link runs beneath the water in the middle of the Pearl River Estuary. Photos: Xinhua
photo00012018-10-23DUPLQTKB00AN0001NOS
The bridge’s pylons are lit up in the evening, as viewed from the mainland city of Zhuhai. Photo: NetEase via VCG
photo-main-bridge-pic11-L
A view of the bridge from Zhuhai. Hong Kong’s Lantau and airport island are seen in the distant background. Photo: Xinhua
project-top-banner
The bridge’s two main pylons. Photo: Xinhua
201810228c1b68cd5d9a4f83be3ad86ace8f5c7c
One of the two man made islands linking the bridge to its tunnel. Photo: Xinhua

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 7.03.48 PM

Screenshot 2018-10-24 at 1.46.07 PM

FOREIGN201810240921000184284982607
Aerial views of the eastern island in the mainland waters. Photos: Xinhua, NetEase via VCG
20181022ccd086a6d916443482485551c67e0fab
A view of the 6.7km tunnel built at the bottom of the estuary. Photo: Xinhua
notes-top-banner
A highway section above the Hong Kong waters. Photo: HK govt
hk-link-road-pic18-L
A view of the bridge and the Ngong Ping cable car system from Hong Kong’s Lantau island. Photo: HK govt
hk-link-road-pic14-L
The bridge road runs alongside Hong Kong’s international airport. Photo: HK govt

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.

20181022e7e8f2ae06c64f22803c30c1bcf1504d
Signboards above Macau and Zhuhai-bound lanes. Photo: HK govt
1123603025_15403009572511n
Vehicles travel on the right on the bridge, as opposed to the arrangement in Hong Kong. Photo: Xinhua
photo-hkbcf-pic13-L
An aerial view of the artificial island to the north of Hong Kong airport housing immigration and customs facilities at the Hong Kong end. Photo: HK govt

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 7.06.32 PM

Screenshot 2018-10-23 at 5.48.10 PM
The interior and exterior of the Hong Kong immigration hall. Photos: HK govt
IMG_0593
A plane flies over the entrance to a feeder line to the Hong Kong port area as local police force and workers prepare for the bridge’s opening. Photo: Facebook
129976454_15401308176741n
Shuttle buses on trial runs inside the bridge’s tunnel prior to Wednesday’s opening. Photo: Xinhua
photo00252018-10-23DUPLIM690BGT0025NOS
An aerial view of the Zhuhai immigration hall, also built on a reclaimed plot. Photo: Xinhua

photo00252018-10-23DUPLIM6E0BGT0025NOS

photo00252018-10-23DUPLIM6D0BGT0025NOS
Passengers pass through immigration and customs counters and self-service kiosks during a recent trial run in the Zhuhai port area. Photos: Xinhua

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.

Read more:

Opening of mega bridge held back by delays at HK end

China’s road to nowhere on a bridge over troubled waters

HK-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge engineer says many hurdles crossed

Massive trial run ahead of HK-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge opening

Glitches mar first day of HK’s express rail link to China