THERE IS SOMETHING about a bridge that stirs the emotions. Take those crisp, new euro notes which show all those bridges symbolically bringing people together. Twelve European countries are now proudly linked with a single currency that spans the chasms of political and cultural diversity. When American crooners Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett sang 'I left my heart in San Francisco', surely they were thinking of the Golden Gate Bridge. Another well-known crooner, President Jiang Zemin, slipped away from the official programme on a visit to London more than a decade ago to visit Waterloo Bridge. Mr Jiang, who has always been a bit of a romantic and was then in charge of Shanghai, wanted to see the bridge made famous in the 1940 film of the same name. And then there is the Brooklyn Bridge, extolled in poetry but also known for the scam artists it spawned who pedalled fraudulent investment shares to an unwary public. Soon you will be able to pad out that list of memorable bridges with one that stretches across Hangzhou Bay and is being greeted with enthusiasm by the residents of the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo. Little Ningbo has always felt a bit overshadowed by its big neighbour Shanghai. Ningbo was never on the short list to hold the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting and its political leaders are rarely seen as candidates for the summit of power in the ruling Communist Party. Beijing has already given its blessings to the project, which will get under way late this year, and will go a long way towards soothing bruised egos in Ningbo. City residents get a bit misty-eyed at the thought of finally being plugged into the rest of the world, or at least finding Shanghai a little less distant. 'We used to be at the end of the road but now we can look forward to becoming a transport hub,' said an optimistic official from Ningbo. The bridge and causeway will stretch about 30km, connecting the town of Cixi with Haiyan across the bay and just to the southwest of Shanghai's Jinshan town. It will cost at least eight billion yuan (about HK$7.49 billion) and will be worth every last fen. Travellers will no longer have to zigzag almost to Hangzhou and then all the way back east just to get from Shanghai to Ningbo. It will cut driving time almost in half, as long as the region's unruly traffic co-operates. That will certainly cheer up all those wealthy private entrepreneurs of gritty Ningbo as they zip around in their Audis and BMWs. It will also cut costs and delivery time for trucks moving the growing volumes of goods in and out of the region's only existing deepwater port at Ningbo. However, that prospect could cause a few red faces in Shanghai. It raises questions about another project dear to the heart of Shanghai officials - the city's own deepwater port project. Shanghai has looked down its nose at Ningbo, insisting that overland transport was too time-consuming and the big commercial centre needed a deepwater port of its own. Much to Shanghai's embarrassment, the mighty Yangtze is mighty shallow. Due to silting problems, the biggest container ships make the journey to Shanghai's main piers at Waigaoqiao with the help of the tides and only partly loaded. Dredging has helped but it is only a partial solution. Instead, Shanghai may spend as much as 100 billion yuan over the next 20 years on a new port to triple its container handling capacity to more than 15 million teu (20-foot equivalent units). That will make Shanghai the largest container port in the world if all goes according to plan. Phase one alone, which will cost 12 billion yuan, calls for the construction of five deepwater berths, a 27km causeway and logistics facilities by 2005. The Shanghai deepwater port is also a bit of a misnomer, mainly because it is not in Shanghai. It will require lots of landfill to combine the Big and Small Yangshan islands, which are below the mouth of the Yangtze River, technically in Zhejiang province and, in fact, in the East China Sea. For those who have a map handy, you might note Ningbo is also in Zhejiang province. Even before the Hangzhou Bay Bridge project was approved by Beijing, there were people, many of them in Zhejiang, asking why Ningbo's potential seemed to be overlooked. Asked whether he thought Shanghai might be wasting time and money, a Ningbo Port Authority official replied diplomatically. 'In China, there are problems with the duplication of facilities,' said Jiang Fengxiang, vice-director of the port's foreign affairs office. 'Shanghai is making its own calculations.' The same question was put to a concerned official of the relevant department in Shanghai. Unfortunately, he did not appear too concerned. 'That's Zhejiang's matter,' he said. If he had not hung up the phone so quickly it might have been pointed out that bridges are indeed an emotional issue.