Urban planning

Footbridge far too costly for taxpayers

At HK$1.7 billion, a proposed Yuen Long walkway has led to a row over the use of public money on what is billed as yet another white elephant

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 4:33am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 4:33am

Even the most spendthrift government would think twice before splashing billions of taxpayers’ money. But our cash-rich government insists that spending HK$1.7 billion on a footbridge is value for money.

Unsurprisingly, the project has fuelled an uproar in the community. Unless officials opt for a less costly approach, it is difficult to see how they can win lawmakers’ approval for the funding.

Need for HK$1.7 billion Yuen Long footbridge ‘not debatable’

Mooted for nearly a decade, the proposal to build an elevated walkway above a nullah to link the Long Ping rail station with the heart of Yuen Long may be well-intentioned, but with that staggering price tag, the footbridge, which only spans 540 metres, is almost as expensive as the Ting Kau Bridge, an iconic 1,177 metre cable-stayed structure across the Rambler Channel in the northwest of the city.

The cost, officials say, is partly attributed to the special works conditions, such as the existence of caves under the nullah and the need to lay foundations as deep as 100 metres.

Having seen so many white elephant public works projects in the past, the public may find it hard to give the government the benefit of doubt this time. In 2010, an Audit Commission investigation exposed a series of misspending involving footbridges and tunnels that were almost used by no one for years.

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The recent cost overruns and engineering mishaps with the high-speed rail and the Sha Tin-Central railway link also make people more vigilant about the cost-effectiveness of public works projects.

Officials insist the money is worth spending, referring to the estimate that the footbridge will draw 11,000 pedestrian trips an hour during peak hours. But even if this is the case, the cost is still questioned by experts.

In a rare joint appeal, five professional construction groups have urged the authority to adopt an alternative proposal that they say will bring the cost down to HK$900 million. The suggestion must not be brushed aside.

With the public coffers flooded with hundreds of billions of dollars, the government ought to be able to do a lot more for the people. But that does not mean it can spend recklessly.

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Wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money on such a bridge is hardly the way to go. Officials must consider other more value-for-money alternatives.