Driving the world’s longest bridge: Hong Kong to Zhuhai

Riding the high speed ferry from Hong Kong to Macau in April this year ,it was hard to ignore the shadow of the superstructure towering over the busy shipping lane. The Hong Kong to Zhuhai Bridge is one of the largest civil construction projects ever undertaken by the People’s Republic of China.

Poster child of the “One Belt, One Road” project the opening of this one bridge marks the completion of the “one ring-road” to rule them all.

Soon it will be possible to drive between Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China.

However, plagued by delays and structural problems, not all the residents of the Zhujiang Estuary welcome the colossal road bridge. Concerns have been expressed that it’s an attempt to bring the autonomous regions of Macau and Hong Kong closer to the fold of Mainland China.

As I asked my hosts in Macau as to when the bridge was opening, it was very hard to get a concrete answer.

With many false starts and delays already, President Xi declared it finally open yesterday to a crowd of 700 attendees – many will only consider the bridge only truly open after they’ve driven over it themselves.

Whether for or against the bridge, there’s no denying it’s an incredible piece of work. Here’s what we know so far:

It’s taken just nine years to build.

Construction of the 55km bridge started on the 15th December, 2009. Nine years on, it seems the project might be drawing to an end. It has been built far too quickly to be included in most atlases. Toggling between Google Maps and satellite, the bridge and its artificial islands appear as if from nowhere.

It’s half bridge, half tunnel

The Zhujiang Estuary is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. To accommodate the ‘Ultra Large Container Vessels’ and cargo ships which carry the world’s wares to and from South China, 10 kilometres of the road link are housed in a tunnel on the sea bed.

There’s still work to be done

Even before any cars had managed to drive across it there were already signs of wear and tear. In April this year, the South China Morning Post captured video of the concrete footings that protect the artificial islands washing away.

Could erosion on this artificial island jeopardise the safety of the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai mega bridge?

It’s not open at all

Not just anyone can drive down the newly opened bridge.

Before taking on the journey, drivers must pass an extremely high “selective criteria”.
Currently it is only open to drivers with mainland government positions.

Private cars must be given a special permit to enter.

The lack of parking was also a concern for Macau locals. Already the most densely populated city on the planet, the Macaunese worry there simply won’t be enough space on the roads. Then there is the added problem that drivers in Mainland China and Hong Kong both drive on opposite sides of the road – Macau and Hong Kong favour left hand drive.

When finally open, it will be mostly used by private coaches and buses, though for the time being there are no public transport links allowed to use the bridge.

At least the few drivers allowed to make the crossing can be guaranteed a clear run, free of any traffic whatsoever.

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