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Whether you view it as a blot on the landscape or Lantau’s entry into a brave new world, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is an incredible feat of engineering. Sam Agars reports.

Covering a total of 50 kilometres and boasting a phenomenal single span of 29.6 kilometres, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HKZMB) is as impressive as it is controversial. It is expected the bridge will provide a huge economic boost for the Greater Pearl River Delta Region, including Hong Kong. However, there are concerns about just what impact the construction, and the resulting influx of visitors, will have on Lantau and those who live here.

A modern marvel

Construction started on the bridge, which will connect Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai, in 2009 and at this stage is due for completion in late 2018. However, the completion date has already been moved back, and according to www.hzmb.hk, the Guangdong National Development and Reform Commission has stated that even a 2020 finish might be tough to achieve.

The HKZMB project includes the main 29.6-kilometre single span, one of the longest in the world, a 6.7-kilometre underwater tunnel to allow ships to pass, boundary crossing facilities on reclaimed land at either end and also a link road at each end. At the Hong Kong end, the Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link (TMCLKL) will also form part of the project, providing a direct link between the New Territories and the HKZMB, the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facility (HKBCF), the airport and Lantau. The main bridge section will include three cable-stayed spans and the bridge and tunnel sections will feature dual three-lane roads designed for a speed of 100 kilometres.

“The type of bridge that we have is a pre-cast concrete bridge that’s made up of pre-cast concrete segments that are about 4-metres long,” says Ted Lawton, a DB resident, who is currently working on the viaduct that links Lantau and the HKBCF.

The marine viaduct will feature four bridges, all connecting Lantau with the HKBCF, that cross over the Tung Chung Navigation Channel. All of the ferries which travel between the airport and the mainland use this channel.

“Two of the bridges go into the (North Lantau) expressway, one goes east and one goes west, and the other two go into the Cheung Tung Road going east and west,” Ted says.

According to Ted, the 200-metre spans required to ensure there is room for the boats to come through are unusually long. “For a concrete bridge of this type, 200 metres is getting towards the limit of what’s possible,” Ted says. “Any longer than that and you have to go to a cable-stayed bridge.”

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The HKBCF, meanwhile, is one of the most unique parts of the entire project. According to www.hzmb.hk, rather than the conventional dredging method that causes environmental damage, a reclamation method that has never been used before in Hong Kong is being employed. This sees steel circular cells filled with inert material used to form a seawall.

That said, the HKBCF has been the cause of much of the project’s delays due to the fact that parts of the island, including the sea wall, have shifted unexpectedly, with reports of up to 6 metres of movement. “There are problems with the reclamation,” admits Ted. “Obviously that’s affecting the whole project.”

An economic boost

According to www.hzmb.hk, the bridge will cut down road travel distance from Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau from 160 kilometres to 30 kilometres, turning what was roughly a four-and-a-half hour trip into a trip of approximately 40 minutes. The idea is that Hong Kong’s position as a logistics centre will be strengthened, economic integration between Hong Kong and the Greater Pearl River Delta Region will increase, the tourism industry will be boosted and jobs will be created.

Closer to home, the bridge is set to have a huge impact on Lantau as a whole. The government has expressed the belief that the bridge, along with the resultant North Lantau Corridor that includes the HKBCF and other planned developments, will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and transform Lantau into an internal transport, logistics and trade hub in the Greater Pearl River Delta Region.

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“HKZMB will bring fundamental change to Lantau’s function and development potential,” says Lantau Development Alliance (LaDA) chairman, Allen Ha. “The island will take on great value as a bridgehead economy.”

Allen is confident that local families will benefit from the employment boost and says that conservation and green tourism are still the focus for the majority of Lantau.

“The needs for development and conservation will be balanced,” he adds. “With the increased job opportunities for different members of the Lantau community, and the predominant part of Lantau’s natural beauty and cultural assets being preserved, the future Lantau will be ideal for living, leisure and employment.”

The fallout

While the government has made clear the economic benefits it expects to see from the HKZMB once it is completed, just how the bridge will affect the quality of life of Lantau residents is a relative unknown. Residents are worried overcrowding will be an issue and that development will destroy the Lantau we know and love.

“Apart from the fact that the natural habitat of the Chinese White Dolphin has been desecrated and the North Lantau Country Park has been blighted by the bridge, I think short term there will be minimal impact on South Lantau,” notes Living Islands Movement’s vice-chairman Louise Preston. She believes that the detrimental effects of the HKZMB will initially be restricted to North Lantau.

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“It will lead to increased air pollution in Tung Chung, and Tung Chung is already one of the worst spots for air pollution in Hong Kong,” Louise says. “There will probably also be increased congestion on the North Lantau Expressway. I don’t think it will affect South Lantau in the short term unless there are tourism bus links so that people come in on a bus from Macau or Zhuhai and then jump on another bus in Tung Chung to South Lantau.”

Suggesting that increased queues in Tung Chung for South Lantau buses may be the only tangible impact the HKZMB has on South Lantau’s residents to start with, Louise warns that it has the potential to do much more damage down the track. “In the long term, I think that the bridge is incredibly sinister as far as boosting the rationale for the East Lantau Metropolis with the various transport links to Hong Kong Island,” she says.

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It has been touted that Tung Chung will become overrun by tourists coming down from the mainland, with Citygate Outlets likely to be a popular destination. Islands District Council member for Tung Chung South, Chow Ho Ding Holden, however, is hopeful that correct development of the HKBCF will alleviate this problem.

“One of the opinions we have submitted to the government is to earmark a specific area on the artificial island to launch a shopping area designed for mainland tourists,” he says. “They can simply pay a visit there and purchase all the daily necessities they need. That way they won’t have to go to Tung Chung city centre and compete with the local residents.”

For now, Holden is focusing on the increased convenience to Tung Chung residents, as well as Lantau residents in general, that the HKZMB will bring – allowing them easy access to the New Territories, Macau and the mainland.

FIND IT

• Chow Ho Ding Holden, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
• Allen Ha, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
• Living Islands Movement, www.livingislands.org.hk

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