President Xi Jinping inspects troubled HK$117 billion bridge on final day of Hong Kong trip
State leader also concludes three-day visit with brief stop at Airport Authority headquarters
Xi arrived on Lantau Island on Saturday morning to see work on a section of the structure, which has so far cost Hong Kong HK$117 billion after repeated cost overruns.
Accompanied by Lam, Xi also inspected other infrastructure projects in the vicinity and was briefed on their progress.
They included the HK$25 billion Hong Kong Link Road, which will connect the bridge with boundary crossing facilities, and the third runway at Hong Kong International Airport, which is expected to cost HK$141.5 billion and be opened by 2024.
Xi travelled on the link road, which was completed in May, along with Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan.
“[Xi] was briefed on how [Hong Kong], through investment in infrastructure, is enhancing its connections within the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area as well as with the rest of mainland China, and on the strategy of strengthening Hong Kong as an international and regional logistics hub,” the government said.
Although the bridge is a controversial project, Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, said it was relevant to Xi’s message urging the city to tap into opportunities in China’s development and to diversify its economy.
“The bridge is a symbol of Hong Kong further participating in the country’s development and integrating into the country’s economy,” Lau said. “It is also very important in strengthening Hong Kong’s connections with the western Pearl River Delta and the whole bay area.”
Since construction began in 2011, the bridge has also been plagued by industrial accidents and scandals. However there are hopes it may be open by the end of the year.
In May, the Independent Commission Against Corruption arrested 21 employees of government contractor Jacobs China in connection with faked concrete test reports relating to the bridge, raising serious safety concerns.
Last month, the government revealed that 210 out of more than 170,000 analysed concrete samples were found to have been falsified. Of those, 159 were from stress-critical locations.
Officials said the faulty samples involved the whole Hong Kong section of the bridge, and all the samples concerned would undergo strength tests.
This followed revelations in February that two seawalls on reclaimed land along the east coast of the nearby airport island collapsed more than two years ago due to irregular extensions.
The reclamation involves 23 hectares of land and the construction of seawalls connecting the bridge to boundary crossing facilities on an artificial island.
The government said remedial works were completed in 2015.
Ten workers have died and more than 600 have been injured while building the bridge, in a total of 275 incidents.
Airport Authority chairman Jack So Chak-kwong later informed Xi on the progress of the third runway.
He also explained the strategic role of the airport in connecting the mainland with the rest of the world as part of the “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s global trade development strategy.