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Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Transport department ‘could have done better’ after new toll system brought chaos to Hong Kong’s road to airport

Traffic ground to standstill for several hours on Tsing Ma Bridge on Monday but Transport Department rejects calls to suspend system, agreeing only to open two more booths during peak hours

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 10:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 August, 2017, 11:30pm

Hong Kong’s transport authority admitted it could have done better after a new toll arrangement for the only road link to the airport descended into chaos on its first day of operation on Monday, causing tailbacks stretching 15km.

But the Transport Department denied the plan was implemented in haste and refused to suspend the arrangement, citing potential danger for motorists.

Two additional toll booths have been installed, but lawmakers remained sceptical whether it would be able to cope with rush-hour traffic.

Traffic came to a standstill early on Monday morning on Tsing Ma Bridge towards Lantau Island, where Hong Kong International Airport is situated.

The gridlocked traffic was at one stage backed up as far as the Tuen Mun Interchange in Siu Lam 15km away, while a separate 15km tail was seen near Kam Tin through the Tai Lam Tunnel.

After nearly four hours, the roads were clear again at around 11am.

For years, tolls for the Lantau Link were only collected on a round-trip basis when motorists leave Lantau, a measure to save time and administrative costs.

That allowed vehicles heading into Lantau to travel unimpeded through three lanes at the toll plaza.

But under the new arrangement implemented on Sunday, Lantau-bound motorists must stop at one of four cash toll booths, or pass through one of two autotoll lanes to pay.

Two additional cash booths were installed on Monday afternoon, with another three ready by the end of the year.

The two-way collection system was brought in to prepare for the commissioning of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, after which the Lantau Link will no longer be the only road to Lantau.

Following a site inspection by Transport Secretary Frank Chan Fan, acting commissioner for transport Macella Lee Sui-chun denied there was poor planning or foresight, saying traffic flow on Monday morning was similar to that of a normal weekday.

But she admitted there was scope for improvement.

“Please excuse us for the inconvenience caused,” she said.

Lee said the barriers and signage could be better placed to minimise confusion for motorists.

Asked why the arrangement could not be implemented after all toll booths have been built, Lee said that would require motorists to travel through completed booths at high speed, causing potential danger.

She promised to expedite the construction, but insisted time was needed to build artificial islands and connect the electrical systems.

Lawmaker Ben Chan Han-pan, who chairs the Legislative Council’s transport panel, expressed reservations about the impact of the two additional toll booths.

“I still urge the department to suspend the arrangement until the construction is complete,” he said.

Seven unions representing aviation industry workers also issued a joint petition, calling for an immediate dialogue between the parties involved.

Airport workers currently rely heavily on bus services, as there is no MTR access to the aviation hub apart from the Airport Express – which charges premium fares.

It was not the first time an incident on the Lantau Link has severely disrupted the airport’s operation.

In October 2015, a barge hit Kap Shui Mun bridge, triggering the alarm and forcing the link’s closure for more than two hours, sealing off all traffic from one of the world’s busiest aviation hubs.

The minor shipping incident also prompted calls to establish alternative roads to Lantau, with the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link only due for completion by 2020.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng