Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge

New images spark more safety concerns, prompting call for city to play bigger role in mega bridge project

Footage posted by a pro-democracy activist shows concrete blocks submerged at western artificial island

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 April, 2018, 8:43pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 April, 2018, 9:24am

The Hong Kong government must “fight” for a bigger role in managing the mega bridge project linking the city to Zhuhai and Macau, a group of politicians and scholars said on Thursday, as new images showed part of a protective wall at one end of the bridge’s western artificial island was completely submerged.

The images were posted by a pro-democracy activist, who claimed his friend took the aerial shots on Monday.

Concerns about the cross-sea bridge project’s safety mounted after photos appeared online last week of the eastern artificial island with wave-absorbing concrete blocks, known as dolosse, scattered in the sea as if they had drifted away.

Mainland Chinese officials at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Authority insisted the structure was deliberately designed that way.

But pointing to the new images on Thursday, former architectural sector lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim questioned how the Hong Kong government would deal with potential safety lapses and recommended it get more involved in the multibillion-dollar project now.

Safety concerns over artificial island at mega Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge dismissed

The 42km mega bridge is expected to be operational later this year.

Currently, Yiu pointed out, governments of the three cities had each nominated a deputy director to the bridge authority. But its director, chief engineer and other members of staff were all from mainland China.

“The Hong Kong government needs to fight for more say,” Yiu said.

“If safety problems do happen to the island in future, it may affect the bridge section in Hong Kong waters. At that time, who’s going to pay for fixing and compensation?”

The eastern island connects the Hong Kong section of the bridge to an undersea tunnel in mainland Chinese waters, and then to the western island and the main bridge.

The bridge authority had last week insisted the project was built in strict accordance with its original design, which had been inspected and approved as meeting required standards.

It stressed the blocks had to be “randomly” positioned, as the island was connected to an undersea tunnel, and a concentration of dolosse would exert too much pressure on the top of the tunnel.

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“We have our ways to do it, and you [Hong Kong] may have your ways to do it,” one of the authority’s deputy directors, Yu Lie, said.

Hong Kong’s Director of Highways Daniel Chung Kum-wah, after a site visit last weekend, said the eastern island’s sea wall was structurally sound and safe.

The video posted on Tuesday by activist Yeung Ke-cheong showed water covering the dolosse at one end of the western artificial island.

Civil engineer and founding member of the Civic Party Simon So Yiu-kwan said the blocks could not protect either of the islands from strong waves in bad weather.

“The blocks are already under water,” he said. “How will they absorb waves?”

So believed the bridge authority’s earlier explanation was “an excuse”, citing similar projects in America and Japan, where the blocks were neatly arranged around artificial islands.

The pattern in which the blocks were laid out also made him believe the dolosse had collapsed and drifted away. He said each block weighed only five tonnes, which was too light for dolosse in the open sea. In comparison, each of the blocks used at Sai Kung’s High Island Reservoir weighed 25 tonnes.

Yu, responding to questions from the media earlier in the day, said there were other structures – like “immersed tubes at the front of the artificial island” to protect the undersea tunnel, a point that Chung had also made previously.

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Hong Kong has so far committed to contributing about HK$10.7 billion (US$1.38 billion), or 43 per cent, of the main bridge’s construction cost. However, local officials will also end up spending another HK$110 billion to build the city’s connection to the main bridge.