China has unveiled the longest sea-crossing bridge – dubbed the 'umbilical cord' – in the world. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge stretches 55 kilometers across the Pearl River Delta.
According to Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority, the total cost of the main bridge was US$7.56 billion, US$4.32 billion of which was funded with bank loans. Of the remaining US$3.24 billion, Hong Kong put up US$1.38 billion, Zhuhai US$1.43 billion and Macau US$0.43 billion.
The bridge aims to reduce travel times between China, Macau and Hong Kong, from three hours to 30 minutes. The bridge is built to withstand a magnitude-8 earthquake and a super typhoon.
Assistant director and senior engineer at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority, Guo Xinglin, says the most technically difficult aspect was the construction of the installation of a 6.7 kilometer-long submerged tunnel.
The tunnel sits in relatively shallow waters and runs between two artificial islands, each measuring 100,000 square meters. The structure's 55-meter high steel cylinder frames are the equivalent of an Airbus A380 – the world's largest passenger jet.
The bridge is located in China's Greater Bay Area which covers 56,500 square kilometers in central southern China and encompasses 11 cities including Hong Kong, Macau and nine others across Guangdong province. Some 68 million people inhabit those regions, which officials hope will ignite greater regional integration to drive economic growth and also boost tourism.
"It takes up less than 1% of the land area of China and is home to less than 5% of the population but produces 12% of China's GDP." When compared to countries around the world, he says "the Greater Bay Area already has the 11th largest economy," Marcos Chan, head of research for commercial real estate consultancy CBRE Hong Kong, Southern China and Taiwan, said.
The region incorporates three borders (Hong Kong/China; Macau/China; Hong Kong/Macau), three different legal systems, three different currencies, residents carry three different passports and identity cards, and speak two different languages (Cantonese and Mandarin).
"To compete with other bay areas in the world, the Chinese government has to remove or reduce these barriers ... and promote integration among the cities," says Chan.
The Authority says over 4,000 vessels pass through the waters daily.
Officials have been criticized by environmental groups – such as the WWF and the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society – which have argued that the construction of the bridge has further endangered Hong Kong's Chinese white dolphin population.
But, a spokesperson for Hong Kong's Highways Department explained that “the locations and alignments of the... infrastructure are carefully determined to avoid the Chinese white dolphin's major active areas. Besides, the construction methods have also been carefully selected so as to minimize the impacts to the marine environment.”
Officials are currently finalizing plans for customs arrangements and operations at checkpoint facilities, determining responsibility for emergency rescue operations as well as negotiating toll prices.
The speed limit for the bridge will be 100 kilometers an hour and vehicles will drive on the right along the Chinese sections of the bridge, and switch to the left in Hong Kong and Macau, to match the driving styles.