Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Struggle to make up lost time on bridge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 December, 2011, 12:00am

Eight days after Hong Kong began long-delayed construction of the massive bridge over the Pearl River estuary, Zhuhai yesterday completed the frames for two man-made islands for the project.

Mainland engineers said their part of the work for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge was on schedule, but feared Hong Kong engineers would have difficulty making up time lost through a judicial review that lasted nearly a year. The HK$83 billion bridge, to be built jointly by authorities from the three jurisdictions, was supposed to be finished by 2016. Zhuhai and Macau began their work in late 2009, but Hong Kong only on December 14.

The priority for Hong Kong, officials said, is building a 150-hectare artificial island for new boundary-crossing facilities. They plan to adopt a new reclamation method similar to that used on the man-made islands whose frames have just been created.

The islands are part of a link which will involve six kilometres of tunnel and bridge sections totalling 50 kilometres. Their frames are huge metal cylinders sunk 20 metres into the sea bed; water is pumped out and replaced with soil and sand. This method takes about two years less than traditional dredging, officials said, but Hong Kong hopes to compress the work even more than that.

Engineers say Hong Kong will have difficulty speeding up the pace of work, partly because of airport height restrictions which will force large vessels to use detours to enter and leave the area.

Yu Lie, deputy director of the Hong Kong Zhuhai Macau Bridge Authority, said trying to get the work done too quickly could raise safety concerns. 'The addition of equipment, workers and money could quicken the progress, but there is a limit,' Yu said. 'Efficiency does not increase in direct proportion to the resources you add: with extra workers you need better safety management. Hong Kong's stringent environmental standards and height limits in areas around the airport also pose extra hurdles.'

Officials say the delay will force Hong Kong to spend an extra HK$6.3 billion to meet the 2016 deadline.

Some engineers have expressed doubts the work - building a 150-hectare, man-made island, boundary facilities, 12.6 kilometres of bridge and connecting roads - can be completed within five years.

Zhu Yongling, chief of the bridge authority, said he was confident Hong Kong would meet the deadline. Work on the mainland part of the project was on track, he said, including boundary facilities, a 29.6-kilometre main bridge with a six-kilometre tunnel, connecting roads and three artificial islands.

Chief design engineer Lu Yongchang said tunnel-digging would begin around August next year, after two of the man-made islands are finished. The six-kilometre tunnel will be made of steel tubes manufactured on an island not far from the site.

How many vehicles will use the bridge is uncertain. The government is planning a pilot scheme to give local drivers temporary licences to cross the border.