Hong Kong will have to restrict number of vehicles using mega bridge because of delay in building airport link road
- Opening ceremony for Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge scheduled for next Tuesday, but still no word on when public can start using world’s longest sea crossing
Hong Kong should not expect a lot of traffic on the multibillion-dollar Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge when it first opens, the head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) said.
Zhang Xiaoming said the fact a connecting road on the Hong Kong side had yet to be built, meant the number of vehicles using the bridge would need to be restricted by the Hong Kong government.
An opening ceremony for the 55km bridge, in which Hong Kong has invested HK$120 billion, is scheduled for next Tuesday, with President Xi Jinping expected to attend on the mainland side.
However, no date has been set for when the bridge will be opened to the public.
Lawmakers in Hong Kong warned earlier that the bridge, which provides a direct link to Hong Kong International Airport, could bring extra traffic to Lantau Island, and cause congestion.
As part of the bridge project, a new connection linking Chek Lap Kok to Tuen Mun and Lantau was being built to divert traffic in the area, and improve existing traffic conditions.
Both the bridge, and the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link were slated for completion in 2016, but the whole project has been delayed.
The southern part of the link running between Chek Lap Kok and Lantau is set for completion next year, but the northern section running toward Tuen Mun will not be finished until 2020.
While Zhang, who will also attend the bridge’s opening ceremony, did not specify what the traffic control measures were, local authorities announced a series of measures in May to prepare for the extra traffic coming from the bridge.
The Transport Department has already capped the number of permits for cross-border private cars at 5,000.
It will release 3,000 more permits three months after the bridge opens, and a third set of permits after the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link is fully operational.
In a Legislative Council question and answer session in July, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor admitted to the “time delay” between the bridge and the link, and said the government would look into ways to manage the problem.
Zhang added in the Thursday meeting that Hong Kong’s integration into China is not a goal, but a process.
“We hope Hong Kong people, especially young people, can make better use of the opportunities arising from the country’s developments,” he said. “That’s why we are also delivering more measures giving them more convenience.”
A government-commissioned study from 2016 estimated that 29,100 vehicles would use the bridge daily, by 2030, which was 12 per cent down from a report written in 2008.
Lawmaker Holden Chow Ho-ding, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, who is also a Tung Chung district councillor, said he was worried about traffic congestion in the area.
Without the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok link, Chow said, traffic leaving the bridge would have to pass through Tung Chung to get to urban Hong Kong.
Civic Party legislator Jeremy Tam Man-ho said authorities might have been trying to manage expectations.
“If the traffic volume remained low, they will have no other excuse,” Tam said.
Construction of the main bridge started in 2009, and its opening has been delayed by two years.
An industry source said local transport officials had been asking the transport sector about whether they were capable of delivering service if the bridge was opened at 3pm on 23 October, the day of the opening ceremony, but they emphasised that so far no specific day had been confirmed.
Officials of three governments held a marathon meeting in Zhuhai that finished in the early hours of Wednesday, as they finalised the arrangements for the opening ceremony.
A source familiar with the situation said Xi’s visit was a factor in determining the schedule, partly because of security.
Matthew Wong Leung-pak, chairman of Kwoon Chung Bus Holdings, whose joint venture TIL Chinalink will deliver up to 400 cross-border coach trips between Zhuhai and Hong Kong, and 62 trips between Hong Kong and Macau every day via the bridge, said they had not received any information about the bridge’s official opening day.
He assumed that if the bridge opened at the end of this month, they could only provide up to 70 per cent to 80 per cent of planned service, because of insufficient time to make manpower preparations.
“We’ve been preparing for this big day for a long time and hired a lot of drivers for this bridge service,” he said. “But, because of the repeated delays to the bridge’s opening, some drivers have already quit.
“We can only guarantee that after the first month of operation we can deliver full service, but on the first day of operation we can only provide 70 per cent to 80 per cent service.”