Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday officially opened the world’s longest sea bridge linking Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, significantly cutting the travel time from between the three territories from three hours to just 30 minutes.
The 55-km-long crossing that cost a whopping $20 billion is dubbed as an engineering feat carrying economic and political significance at a time when Beijing is seen tightening its grip over its semi-autonomous territories.
It connects Asia’s financial hub, Hong Kong, with the southern mainland city of Zhuhai and the gambling enclave of Macau, across the waters of the Pearl River Estuary with a snaking road bridge and underwater tunnel.
It took nine years to complete the bridge due to delays, budget overruns, corruption prosecutions and the deaths of construction workers.
Situated in the Lingdingyang waters of the Pearl River estuary, it will be the world’s longest sea bridge. The bridge will be opened for regular traffic from Wednesday.
Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese control in 1997 with the assurance it would maintain its own legal and economic system for 50 years, till 2047.
The construction of the bridge started in December 2009 and was to be completed in 2016.
Though supporters of the bridge promote it as an engineering marvel that will boost business and cut travel time, but critics termed it as a “white elephant” and said it is one more way to integrate Hong Kong into China as fears grow that the city’s cherished freedoms are being eroded, according to a media report.
China claims credit for building the world’s longest bridge, the 164.8-km-long Danyang-Kunshan Grand viaduct on the Beijing- Shanghai high-speed railway.
It is the second major infrastructure project which connects Hong Kong to mainland China, after the opening of a high-speed rail link last month. The rail link sparked criticism that Hong Kong was giving away territory as some part of the rail terminus came under the jurisdiction of mainland China.
Additional concerns surfaced earlier this year when officials revealed that estimates for the amount of traffic expected for the bridge had been cut.
A 2008 consultancy study had predicted that 33,100 vehicles and 1,71,800 passengers would cross the bridge daily by 2030.
But the estimate was lowered to 29,100 vehicles and 1,26,000 passenger trips in a 2016 study, down 12% and 26% respectively, the SCMP said.