Tens of billions of dollars will be spent on rail and road infrastructure in the Pearl River Delta, knitting closely the transportation networks of burgeoning industrialised cities. Massive infrastructure works are either under construction or about to be started by local governments, with a common goal of spurring efficiency, logistics flow, tourism and economic activities. A web of rail and roads will serve key industrialised and trade regions such as Guangzhou, Foshan, Macau, Shunde, Dongguan, Zhuhai, Shenzhen and Asia's financial hub Hong Kong, with a cumulative population of about 40 million. The projects will provide much-needed logistics support to facilitate an expected surge in trade following the official signing of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (Cepa) last month. Financial analysts and businessmen widely expect the agreement to benefit 18 services industries in Hong Kong including management, consulting, construction, banking, freight forwarding and telecommunications, by allowing closer access to the mainland market. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa has pledged his support for the infrastructure projects as part of the Hong Kong government's efforts to restore confidence and prosperity. Zheng Tianxiang, a professor at Zhongshan University's centre for Hong Kong, Macau and Pearl River Delta research, says that the regional governments' infrastructure investment plans have come at the right time. 'Infrastructure investments in the delta will link up local transportation networks crucial to the future of Hong Kong's tourism; that is the Disneyland theme park, Macau's development of gambling and tourism businesses and the industrialisation of Guangdong,' Mr Zheng says. A major piece of infrastructure is the 15 billion yuan (HK$14.03 billion) Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, a gateway to the Pearl River Delta's west. The 28km bridge, however, has been a magnet for controversy over its urgency, regulation, environmental impact, ownership and financing. The project resurfaced a year ago from the bottom of the government priority list when Hopewell Holdings chairman Sir Gordon Wu Ying-sheung, a major investor in Guangdong infrastructure, stressed its urgency and necessity in anticipation of booming delta trade. With the help of political trade winds in Beijing, the bridge is on the verge of receiving a green light, and the Hong Kong government is seeking HK$59 million in funding for start-up engineering work. 'The bridge should be built as soon as possible,' Mr Zheng says. 'It is an indisputable fact that the bridge will fill the missing road link in the west of the delta.' Mr Zheng calls for the construction of a rail track on the proposed four-lane bridge to create more convenience for passenger travel. 'The rail track will certainly bring more people to Macau's casinos and Hong Kong's Disneyland,' he says. It will also connect a planned extensive light rail network between Guangzhou, Zhongshan and Macau, which will span the next 30 years, to be built at a cost of about 20 billion yuan, he says. Work on part of the light rail network, serving Guangzhou and Foshan, has already begun. 'The bridge will perfectly link up the light rail networks in Guangzhou, Zhongshan and Macau with Hong Kong's Airport Express railway,' Mr Zheng says. The bridge will also be connected with a web of highways such as the 122.8km Guangzhou-Shenzhen Superhighway, an inner city east-south-west ring road in Guangzhou and a planned 58km Guangzhou-Zhuhai western delta highway. This road portfolio, run by Sir Gordon's infrastructure arm Hopewell Highway Infrastructure, has been a popular arterial transportation system to manufacturers in Dongguan, Shenzhen, Nanhai, Zhongshan and Guangzhou. The planned first phase of the Guangzhou-Zhuhai western delta highway is a high-speed link between Guangzhou and Shunde which is expected to reduce the transport time on existing roads to 15 minutes from the 40 minutes it takes at present. The second and third phase of the western delta highway consists of a 42km expressway from the southern end of phase one in Shunde to Zhongshan. At Zhongshan, the expressway will join national highway 105 to Zhuhai in the south and the planned Jiangzhong expressway to Jiangmen in the west and Guangzhou East highway. At western Shenzhen, the construction of the fourth land crossing to the special economic zone from Hong Kong - known as Shenzhen Western Corridor - is already under way, and the completion is due in 2006. Designed with a capacity for 80,000 vehicles a day from 2005, the crossing is expected to see 65,000 vehicles pass the border daily, far more than the combined 42,000 vehicles the existing three corridors can handle. The $3 billion corridor will also offer travellers greater convenience, with a joint customs and immigration facility in Shekou. To boost efficiency, a number of heavy rail links complement the delta. Authorities in Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong are planning an express rail track through their cities to cut short the travelling time to less than 60 minutes from about two hours. Planning of the express rail has been difficult as local authorities have been locked in a debate on the number of train stops required for the rail line. The argument centres on striking a balance: the more stops the rail line has, the wider the catchment area of travellers, but the longer the travelling time.