World’s longest sea bridge coupling Hong Kong to mainland China opens

In what some observers consider a next step to further assimilate Hong Kong and Macau into mainland China, Chinese President Xi Jinping christened the Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge on Tuesday.

Built at a cost of $20 billion and spanning 34 miles, the world’s longest sea bridge will connect Communist China’s two special administrative regions to Guangdong province.

Joining Hong Kong and mainland China by way of Macau, the six-lane span traverses the Pearl River Estuary and links Hong Kong’s Lantau Island with Macau.

The culmination of an idea first conceived in the early 1980s, construction of the structure began in 2009, but was delayed by cost overruns, the deaths of 18 workers, legal challenges over environmental concerns and a testing scandal involving construction engineers.

An engineering marvel, the bridge was constructed to sustain virtually every possible natural disaster and consumed over 400,000 tons of steel.

The new pathway to the mainland shaves off over three-and-a-half hours from a journey which previously required four hours to make.

Although the toll bridge is open to public traffic, private passenger vehicles are required to apply for permits to traverse the bridge.

Graphic: Bridge and tunnel cross-section and location map

Part of Beijing’s massive spending on infrastructure, the bridge, which is expected to fuel new economic growth along the Pacific Rim, follows an $11 billion high-speed rail system to Hong Kong which opened in September.

Although Beijing anticipates the bridge’s opening to shorten travel time and a source of revenue, some speculate it is the Communist Party’s attempt to infringe further on two administrative regions which have enjoyed extraordinary autonomy.

Former colonies of the United Kingdom and Portugal, both Hong Kong and Macau were returned to Beijing’s administrative control in 1997 and 1999, respectively.  Both exist as a special regions of China.


[] [CNN] [Photo courtesy AP/Kin Cheung via Deutsche Welle]