Nothing about the HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge adds up, even the cost overruns are fake news

The bridge will be open and available at just about the time that our container port goes into a steep decline

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 5:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 11:03pm

Hongkongers are set to foot a bigger bill than expected for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge after latest estimates showed the cost for the bridge had overrun by one third or HK$11.8 billion.

SCMP, November 23

Personally I would rate this news up there with the thrilling announcement that sunrise tomorrow will take place in the morning and the sun will be in the east when it happens.

Has anyone yet heard of a government concrete pouring project in Hong Kong that did not go into huge cost overruns? They all do. The engineers build it into their equations. Why waste an opportunity to underbid and then ask for more money later when you know you will always get that money?

At present our part of the bill, including for the Hong Kong border facilities, stands at HK$110 billion (US$14.08 billion) approved by the Legislative Council. The final accounting may still be less than HK$150 billion. Then again it may not. What is certain is that no figure even remotely so high was mooted at the start.

Mega bridge project set to exceed budget by more than HK$11 billion

What do we get for this?

The original idea was that the bridge would allow shorter and more convenient transport of export goods from the booming west bank of the Pearl River and thus strengthen the position of our container port.

Leaving aside, however, that this boom has not really boomed quite so boomingly or that self-propelled barges carrying 30 or more 40-foot containers are not greatly more inconvenient or costly than running 30 tractor/trailer assemblies at a time across a costly bridge, Shenzhen is unhappy at being left out.

And thus Shenzhen has its own plans for a shorter bridge across the delta, one that also makes greater logistical and financial sense than ours.

Take that, Hong Kong, and take that, Zhuhai, if you want to cut us out, say the Shenzhen city fathers, omitting to take Macau into account here because, let’s face it, Macau is really of no account in this fracas.

Most of all, we will have this bridge opened and available at just about the time that our container port goes into a steep decline because rival ports across the border are much cheaper and make more sense to shippers. Our port is only kept alive by outdated trade restriction practices that Beijing is reviewing.

Forward thinking, you see, that’s what we pride ourselves on.

Authorities urged to scrap planned tolls for Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge

Oh, and did I say this bridge will be available? Well, actually it will not. Even when opened (this century sometime), on the Hong Kong side only 3,000 private vehicles will be granted a special permit to use it, this out of a total vehicle population of 760,000. Try your luck. You have one chance in 253.

But let us say that you win, you get your special permit and you decide to take the car to Macau for a weekend.

Out of luck again. Macau will not allow on its roadways any cars coming from Hong Kong across the bridge. You will have to park your car on a big island now being reclaimed offshore from Macau and then wait for a shuttle bus to take you nearer to Macau’s taxis and casino buses. Take the jet cat, I say.

It might still have been worthwhile going by the bridge if initial suggestions of building a rail link in it had been adopted. They were scorned from the beginning.

‘I was just lazy’ admits man accused of faking concrete test reports on mega bridge

Why? Well, there is not much that makes sense about this bridge from any perspective you take on it. The absence of rail is just one more example.

And now there is to be a talk shop in Zhuhai next month at which a carefully selected and patriotic group of experts, officials and users will deliberate what the bridge tolls should be, if any.

This truly is a big question when any feasible toll would not even cover the cost of operating the bridge, leave alone put a dent into the cost of building it, but would likely drive the Zhongshan container traffic right back to the barges.

How surprising that they got their money numbers wrong again. What big news it is that they just didn’t know it would turn out this way.

Hey, boss, clear the front page. I have even bigger news. Sunrise tomorrow will be at 6:41am.