Cooperation needed to fully maximise benefits of mega bridge
● With President Xi Jinping due to open the world’s longest sea structure linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau today, regional authorities must work together to ensure its success
The opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge marks another milestone in cross-border integration. Following an inauguration ceremony officiated by President Xi Jinping today, the world’s longest sea crossing will be open to traffic tomorrow. Together with the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which has now been in use for a month, the mainland has never been closer. The 55km bridge was nothing more than a distant concept decades ago. Today, it is an engineering marvel across the Pearl River Delta, and the first joint construction by the governments of two special administrative regions and a mainland city. It has set a good example of cooperation under the principle of “one country, two systems”, endorsed by the central government.
The history of the project was just as eventful as that of the cross-border rail link. Even though it avoided the politically controversial arrangement of housing all customs and immigration facilities in one checkpoint, it was fraught with technical challenges, ballooning costs, environmental issues, fatal accidents, fraud and delays.
The two neighbouring cities are now just a short drive away from Lantau Island. There will also be more than 400 bus services back and forth each day. The so-called one-hour living circle is, finally, not just a dream. The synergy goes beyond travel convenience, though. The enhanced connectivity is expected to drive the flow of logistics and investment, which will further strengthen the region’s competitiveness. Together with the airport at Chek Lap Kok, Lantau will become a “double gateway” to the world and the delta region.
Emerging unscathed from the onslaught of Typhoon Mangkhut just a few weeks ago, the bridge is facing a daunting test of logistics and coordination. From expanding transport fleets and networks to ticketing and tourism promotions, the relevant industries need to gear up for the new opportunities that will follow. Information campaigns for individual drivers should also be stepped up to avoid any confusion arising from the difference in traffic systems.
A top mainland official believes the long-term economic benefits for the region may reach “tens of trillions of dollars”. Only time will tell whether this will be the case. A consultancy report in 2016 put the daily usage at 29,100 vehicles by 2030, 12 per cent down from the estimate in 2008. But with the national drive to develop the “Greater Bay Area”, which aims to turn Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland cities into an integrated economic powerhouse, and the ambitious Lantau reclamation plan on the horizon, the bridge has great potential. The connection also enhances the nation’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, its development strategy. It is important that regional authorities work closely to maximise the benefits of the bridge.