Another engineering marvel has been completed and the trophy goes to China, again. Billed as the world’s longest sea bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, supporters have been calling it an engineering wonder. Critics, on the other hand, call the infrastructure mega-project politically driven and a costly white elephant.
The project was dogged by delays, budget overruns, and accusations of corruption and the deaths of construction workers. It was hoped that the China and world’s longest sea bridge – spanning 55 kilometres (34 miles) – could be opened in 2017, from its original schedule of 2016, but it never did. After its lighting system was installed and tested, the completed bridge would be opened this year (2018).
The official cost is still unknown but an estimated 100 billion Yuan (US$15.4 billion; £11.3 billion; RM61.3 billion) was splashed into the project, which includes artificial islands. Construction started back in 2009 after 6 years of preparation and studies. The construction of the bridge would take 8 years linking Hong Kong, mainland Zhuhai and Macau (HKZMB).
Major work on the bridge included a 22.9-kilometre-long main bridge, a 6.7-kilometre-long undersea tunnel and artificial islands off the bridge – considered the most technical challenging part of the project. The bridge will slash travel time between Hong Kong and Zhuhai from 4 hours to just 30 minutes, further integrating cities in the Pearl River Delta.
But this is not any ordinary bridge like others. Tonnes of technology know-how have been poured into the infrastructure. The Y-shaped span incorporates the latest engineering technology and design, enabling the structures to withstand a magnitude 8 earthquake, a super typhoon or a strike by a cargo vessel weighing 300,000 tons.
Designed to last at least 120 years, the bridge is indeed very strong. The artificial islands constructed at the ends of the sea tunnel are reinforced by 120 giant steel cylinders, each 73.8-foot in diameter and 180-foot high, equivalent to the height of an 18-storey building. Each cylinder weighs 550 tons, about the same weight as an Airbus A380 – world’s largest passenger jet.
The major section of the bridge will provide a dual three-lane expressway to handle traffic up to speeds of 100 km/h. The total bridge width is 108.6-foot, with two 46.7-foot tunnels and a vertical clearance of 16.7-foot. A total of 400,000 tons of steel was used in the project, equivalent to 60 times the steel used to build the Eiffel Tower.
From an artificial island near Hong Kong International Airport, the structure runs west to another artificial island off the eastern shore of Macau – a distance of 55 kilometres (34.2 miles) – 20 times the length of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Though officially called a bridge, it is in fact a series of bridges and tunnels crossing the Pearl River estuary.
In spite of the engineering wonder, the first blueprint for the project actually dated back to 1983. When the idea was unleashed by Hong Kong tycoon Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, it was laughed off as a fantasy. His vision to accelerate integration of the two sides of the Pearl River was not feasible primarily due to technology and engineering challenges.
In fact, the original plan did not include tunnels at all between Tuen Mun in Hong Kong and Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Zhuhai was then in its early stages of development. As one of the first special economic zones set up by mainland China in the 1980s to attract foreign investors, people were sceptical about the prospect of Zhuhai, let alone building the world’s longest sea bridge.
But Mr. Gordon believed the economic zone could benefit with an infrastructure integrating Hong Kong and Zhuhai. It would take more than a decade in 1997 for the authorities to see the potential in the plan. Gordon’s original design was dropped and planning started on a link from Zhuhai and Macau, linking to Hong Kong’s new international airport.
Zhang Jinwen, project director with the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HKZMB) Authority, said in the coming few weeks, engineers and constructors will test the coordination of the bridge’s various systems and equipment, and proceed with inspection and cleaning work.
Mr. Zhang also said – “The bridge will be put into trial operation after its port project is completed and taken over by customs, inspection and quarantine, and border control authorities.” However, there’s one problem – will there be enough traffic using the bridgeafter burning 100 billion Yuan? All 3 jurisdictions – Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai – pay their portion of the costs for the mega-project.
Source: Finance Twitter