Highway project reaches end of road

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 May, 1998, 12:00am

Completion of the Country Park section of Route 3 forms a major part in the Government's strategic road network plan, providing direct access between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon to the northwest New Territories.

The $6.5 billion expressway - additional work at Au Tau has increased the cost by about $250 million - will also help improve freight links between the mainland boundary and the Kwai Chung container port.

The Route 3 (CPS) Company believes journey times between Yuen Long and Kwai Chung will be slashed to just 15 minutes compared to the 30 or 40 minutes it now takes.

And despite the $120 toll for five-axle articulated container trucks, the company believes the savings in time and diesel will more than compensate for the additional levy. Cars and taxis will be charged $15, private/public light buses, light goods vehicles and single deck buses $30 and medium goods vehicles $40.

Running from the northern approach of the Ting Kau Bridge to the Au Tau interchange, the Country Park section consists of the 3.8-kilometre-long Tai Lam tunnel and the Yuen Long approach road.

It also completes the Route 3 expressway that starts in Sai Ying Pun on Hong Kong Island and ends at the junction with Route 2, the northern circular road, which continues to the border at Lok Ma Chau.

Consequently, Route 3 includes the Western Harbour Crossing, West Kowloon Expressway, Kwai Chung viaduct and Cheung Ching tunnels built under the airport core programme.

The recently-opened Ting Kau Bridge and Country Park section complete the highway.

One of the key elements of the Country Park section is the Tai Lam tunnel. With three bores - two containing each three-lane expressway and a service tunnel - the tunnel is the widest such structure in Hong Kong.

It is also fitted with some of the most sophisticated traffic monitoring and incident detection equipment available.

The Route 3 (CPS) Company has backed up this equipment with a $30- million fleet of recovery vehicles and regular mobile patrols, according to the company's general manager, Thomas Tam Yau-kay.

With an overall length of 12 kilometres, the Route 3 Country Park section is the longest length of expressway to be put out to private concession.

The Route 3 (CPS) Company signed its 30-year franchise on May 29, 1995, after beating off two rival bidders.

Three years later, construction has been completed and the highway opened to traffic, two months ahead of schedule. This is far faster than the shorter Tate's Cairn Tunnel built in 1989.

The Route 3 (CPS) Company was originally led by Swire Properties with Sun Hung Kai (Properties) a minority stakeholder, but approval of the concession coincided with the go-ahead for several other Swire developments.

This forced the company to withdraw and Sun Hung Kai Properties became the majority shareholder with 50 per cent. Other partners are Bank of China Group Investment and China Resources (Holdings), both with 20 per cent, and China Travel Services (Holdings) with 10 per cent.

Construction of the expressway was carried out in three sections in a back-to- back agreement between the Route 3 (CPS) Company and the Route 3 Contractors' Consortium (R3CC).

This was formed by Nishimatsu Construction of Japan, Dragages et Travaux Publics of France and Gammon Construction, Hong Kong's largest contractor.

The contractors' consortium in turn appointed Maunsell Consultants Asia and Scott Wilson (HK) as design consultants with Ove Arup & Partners as independent checking engineer.

As a private concession, most of the risk for delays and non-completion rested with the contractors. Early completion would mean a healthy bonus for the concession company, but any major delay would cause substantial liquidated damages for the construction consortium.

Ironically, one of the few risks accepted by the Government was land acquisition. Problems identifying ownership, particularly of graves in the area around the Kam Tin valley and Yuen Long, threatened at one point to derail the project.

Luckily for the Highways Department, the contractors were able to continue working on other parts of the project while the land was assembled.

Through the co-operative efforts of R3CC and several government departments, all the resumed land was handed over at the end of 1995 - in time for tunnelling to start in January 1996.