Hong Kong's cross-harbour vehicle capacity will be increased by 75 per cent at a single stroke when Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang officially opens the Western Harbour Crossing today, three months ahead of schedule. A key benefit of the crossing is quicker travelling time as a result of an extensive road system allowing vehicles fast and easy access to the crossing from both sides of the harbour. The Nishimatsu-Kumagai Gumi joint venture designed and constructed the crossing to comfortably handle up to 180,000 vehicles a day. It has a 50 per cent greater handling capability than each of the existing tunnels. The extra capacity will support the Transport Department's predicted increase in traffic levels and is intended to meet Hong Kong's cross-harbour transport needs well into the 21st century. The $7.5 billion project to build Southeast Asia's first immersed three-lane tunnel, with 10 kilometres of associated roads (40 km of lanes) and 17 bridges, is the largest single transportation project undertaken by the private sector in the territory. The crossing is also the first privately funded 'build operate and transfer' project endorsed by the Joint Liaison Group (JLG) to be included in the Airport Core Project. The two-km-long tunnel is one of the 10 new airport projects which will provide a vital link between the major population centres of Hong Kong island with the container port in Kwai Chung, the new airport site at Chek Lap Kok and the opening up of the northwestern New Territories with the super-highway to Guangzhou. The Western Harbour Tunnel Company has been working closely with the Transport Department to ensure adequate road signs are in place advising of approach roads to the crossing. More than 300 signs have been erected throughout the territory, outlining directions to the crossing. On the Hong Kong side, the new Smithfield link at Pokfulam will connect Belcher Bay in Kennedy Town into Sai Ying Pun and the tunnel entrance. A series of specially constructed bridges will provide fast access to the Central business district, Wan Chai and North Point. On the Kowloon side, the crossing leads directly on to the high-speed West Kowloon Expressway with additional connections to Canton Road, Jordan Road, Kansu Street, Waterloo Road, Argyle Street, Cherry Street, Nam Cheong Street, Yan Chau Street, Tong King Street and Hing Wah Street. In 1993, the Hong Kong Government granted a 30-year franchise to the Western Harbour Tunnel Company to provide and operate the crossing. After the franchise term, the crossing will be transferred to the Government. The joint venture between Nishimatsu and Kumagai was successful in winning the contract to design and construct the project within a time limit of 47 months. The joint venture appointed Maunsell-Acer-Parsons Brinkerhoff as the contractor's designers. Contracts were also awarded to Nishimatsu Construction, Kumagai Gumi and Gammon Construction. The contract for the design, manufacture, installation and commissioning of the electrical and mechanical works was awarded to GEC (HK). Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick was employed as an independent design and work checker, and project management was carried out by a team specially recruited by the joint venture. The contract was divided into three sections: building and installation of the twin three-lane immersed tube; construction of approach roads at West Kowloon; and approach roads and associated infrastructure works on Hong Kong island. The tunnel is served by a 20-lane toll plaza on the West Kowloon side which will help to process the flow of traffic quickly. The four centrally located autopass booths are reversible, which will allow as many as 12 booths to process traffic moving in one direction during peak periods. The dual three-lane tubes will significantly reduce congestion or delays in the event of a vehicle breakdown within the tunnels. A three-storey administration building on the Kowloon side acts as a control centre for tunnel approaches with state-of-the-art technology for surveillance, power, ventilation, lighting and toll collection. The building also houses administration staff, maintenance and repair facilities. Private motorists using the crossing will pay a toll of $30 for a one- way journey, while vans and commercial vehicles will be charged on a scale related to vehicle size.