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Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Hong Kong’s engineering reputation put to the test

A number of recent mega infrastructure projects have been hit by delays and cost overruns. But under no circumstances should safety be compromised

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 May, 2016, 1:08am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 May, 2016, 1:08am

Hong Kong’s civil engineering credentials are arguably among the world’s best. From building massive cross-harbour bridges to a state-of-the-art airport and cruise terminal, nothing seems too challenging for our professionals. Increasingly, their reputation has been put to the test. The multibillion-dollar high-speed rail project to Guangzhou has been hit by serious delays and costs overruns. The bridge project linking the city with Macau and Zhuhai does not look promising either.

In the second blow to the bridge project in seven months, the reclamation work for an artificial island near the airport was found to have “moved” nearly three metres. Confirmation from the Highways Department came only after the media had been alerted to the problem. Although officials assured that drifting in reclamation was not uncommon, the news is hardly comforting.

This is not the first time the project has been called into question. The 150-hectare reclaimed island was found to have drifted up to seven metres in September last year. Whether the commission target will be put back further remains unclear at this stage. But officials say work schedules remains unchanged.

Like other mega infrastructure projects in recent years, the bridge has experienced delays and cost overruns. The latest cost of the Hong Kong section reaches more than HK$35 billion, HK$ 5.4 billion up from the original budget.

The project would have been near completion this year had it not been running behind schedule. There has been suggestion that the tight deadline has prompted officials to use a quicker but less stable reclamation method. Whatever technique is used, we trust the government would not put speed ahead of safety.

At stake is not just the city’s reputation as a showcase of engineering marvels. The repeated setbacks in infrastructure works are a reminder that the authorities need to be realistic about costs, capacities and targets. Under no circumstances should structural safety be compromised by deadline and cost.