By Jonathan Evans
Huge fanfare accompanied October’s official unveiling of the world’s longest sea bridge, which spans 55km across the Pearl River Delta to connect three essential urban hubs of 21st-century China: Lantau island in Hong Kong, Macau and the scenic coastal city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province. As a sea crossing, the bridge is unprecedented in its complexity and scale. As an indication of its scale, around 420,000 tons of steel were used in its construction; the entire length of the bridge exceeds the total breadth of Singapore, and is 20 times longer than the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge (HZMB) is a key project in the Chinese government’s Greater Bay Area masterplan – a campaign to connect the SARs of Hong Kong and Macau to 11 Chinese cities, forming a high-tech economic zone, which also includes the “Vibrant Express” high-speed rail link. It cost US$18.8 billion, and includes artificial islands that are linked together by a 6.7km undersea tunnel to divert traffic from major shipping areas. The journey from Hong Kong to Zhuhai hitherto would have taken around four hours by ferry and road, but the bridge cuts travel time down to about 45 minutes.
This giant feat of engineering was first proposed in the 1980s when a Hong Kong-based infrastructure and property firm suggested the idea to officials in Beijing and Guangdong. The design was reportedly inspired by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel in the United States, and had the working name of Lingdingyang Bridge after a channel in the Pearl River estuary. The project can be said to have unofficially started in the mid-1990s, when a bridge was built to connect the Zhuhai mainland and Qi’ao island as a tentative first stage of the route. However, it did not yet have official backing, and it was only in 2002 that an agreement was made between Beijing and Hong Kong to greenlight the project.
The HZMB is a true collaboration between the central Chinese authorities and the governments of Hong Kong and Macau; the Hong Kong Link Road, for example, which completes the eastern section of the crossing near Chep Lap Kok, was developed by the Highway Department of the Hong Kong government. It encompasses a boundary crossing on an artificial island, a short scenic tunnel and a road alongside the main island’s international airport.
The design of the bridge was masterminded by the engineering firm Arup – which worked on the Sydney Opera House – in a joint consortium with the China Highway Planning and Design Institute (HPDI). The firm aimed to create an appropriate maritime motif for each of the three component bridges – Qingzhou, Jianghai and Jiuzhou – while simultaneously addressing environmental challenges such as typhoons, airport height restrictions and the habitat of dolphins. In diversifying the bridges’ visual style, the intention was also to help sustain drivers’ interest along the lengthy route.
In the end, Arup devised three shapes for the towers above the bridges according to the areas they span: Chinese knots for the Qingzhou section (halfway between Hong Kong and Macau), dolphins for Jianghai (the section approaching Zhuhai and Macau), and sails for Jiuzhou (the final section, off the shore of Zhuhai and Macau) that resemble a boat’s mast. To reduce boredom for drivers, the design of the road also incorporated curves to make it look like a snake, a potent force in Chinese mythology and culture.
The HZMB marks a new era for transportation in the Pearl River Delta, but for now the only vehicles allowed to use the bridge are those belonging to government officials; private drivers with special permits; freight trucks; and an officially licensed private shuttle bus (known as the “Golden Bus”). The number of vehicles permitted to enter Hong Kong and Macau is subject to a daily quota, and aside from border checks at all three stops, there are fees to pay and paperwork to complete for private drivers entering Hong Kong.
Travellers wishing to use the Golden Bus – so named because of the fleet’s golden livery – may book tickets at counters and vending machines in the border-control areas (“passenger clearance buildings”) at Zhuhai, Macau or Hong Kong, and will have to clear immigration to travel between territories. The bus runs 24 hours a day and costs between US$8 to US$10 per trip; bus terminals in each city are also located at the passenger clearance buildings.
A private coach company, One Bus Hong Kong Macau, runs 19 daily return trips between Kowloon and selected hotels in Macau in a journey that takes just under two hours. (For details, please visit www.onebus.hk) And while tourists – and, indeed, locals – are in Macau, they can use the new taxi app "Macau Taxi" (which is available to download at Apple or Android OS) or WeChat "Mini program" for cashless payment and convenience.
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