ZHUHAI, China – Chinese authorities say the world’s largest marine bridge, a colossal engineering work for which four artificial islands had to be built, will not affect the environment nor the ecosystem of the Pearl River Delta, and they trust it will have paid for itself and start making a profit in 30 years.
The macrobridge connecting the cities of Zhuhai, Macau and Hong Kong is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects of recent times, something that has not avoided criticism for its high cost and impact on the environment, opinions rejected by the builders.
Inaugurated in late October, the bridge reduces to some 40 minutes the trip between the autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau, two of China’s leading economic centers.
Though its total length is some 55km (34 miles), the bridge sections total a little less than 23km, while another 6.7km is made up of a tunnel under the Pearl River Delta that allows ships to sail through without obstruction.
The bridge construction, which began in December 2009 in Zhuhai – on the border with Macau – has suffered from delays, cost overruns and political tensions, besides taking the lives of some 20 workers and injuring another 600.
EFE was present at a meeting of international media with the company building the bridge, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge Authority, whose top executives spoke prudently but convinced of the project’s success.
Much of the criticism has been directed at the final cost, estimated at some 117 billion yuan ($16.9 billion, 15 billion euros).
Asked about the project’s long-term economic viability, the assistant director of the Bridge Authority, Yu Lie, said it is “too soon” to judge its success, while adding that the islands could become profitable tourist attractions.
Yu also responded to those who doubt the original estimates of 29,100 vehicles passing over the bridge daily by 2030: “Our most successful day to date has registered 100,000 passengers, mostly in buses.”
Another criticism has been the project’s impact on the ecosystem of the estuary, habitat of the pink dolphin of Hong Kong – also known as the Chinese white dolphin – a species considered close to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Yu said that “many measures are being taken to protect them,” such as limiting the length of workdays and stopping trash from being dumped in the river.
On the positive side, Li Shekao, a resident of Jiangmen – 100km (62 miles) from Zhuhai – is glad it no longer takes “half a day” to reach Hong Kong to go shopping: “It now takes an hour and a half. That’s fantastic.”