Boost long-term use of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to make it a worthwhile venture
- The mega bridge has much symbolic and functional value
- But the practical issues that surfaced when it opened raised questions over its long-term viability
Few modern Chinese infrastructure projects have as much symbolic and functional value as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. That explains why it continues to make headlines domestically and internationally following its official opening on Wednesday. On one hand, there has been extensive media coverage on its significance for China as a new world power. On the other hand, more practical issues have surfaced, raising questions over its long-term viability.
The importance of the project to China was highlighted by President Xi Jinping. It was “the bridge of fulfilled dreams, united hearts, confidence and renaissance”, he reportedly said during a tour after the opening ceremony. Although the Hong Kong section of the world’s longest sea crossing was fraught with problems like ballooning costs, fatal accidents, fraud and delays during construction, it is now a majestic showpiece at the country’s southern gateway. The wealth of technological breakthroughs is testimony to the country’s might and prowess.
The achievement owes much to the support of the central government. For the first time, two administrative regions have worked with a mainland city to deliver infrastructure of strategic importance to the country’s development. But the project would not have been delivered without the foresight and expertise of those involved. Conceptualised at a time when regional integration was still frowned upon, the crossing has cost Hong Kong taxpayers a staggering HK$120 billion and has taken nine years to build. Today, few would question its need and contribution.
Like other mega projects, the bridge will take time to maximise its full potential. The number of intercity bus services will be kept low initially. The permits enabling private vehicles to drive through the bridge are also relatively few at this stage. The facilities have yet to be put to the real test.
The governments of the three cities should make use of this period to fix teething problems. Unlike the chaos experienced at the Zhuhai port on the first two days, the situation on the Hong Kong side was relatively smooth. Yet many drivers were apparently unfamiliar with the directions after crossing the bridge. There is still much room for improvement in terms of signage and coordination. The frequency of bus services and the number private vehicle permits should also be adjusted in response to demand.
Hong Kong transport minister Frank Chan Fan was right not to have high expectations of the traffic volume at this stage. But to make the bridge a worthy venture, it is important for the authorities to boost the usage in the long term. Only by maximising the bridge’s full potential can the symbolic and functional values be manifested.