Later this week, the long-awaited 34-mile sea bridge connecting mainland China to Hong Kong and Macau will finally open.
In a ceremony on Tuesday that Chinese president Xi Jinping will reportedly attend, the bridge will officially open. Its accolades include the designation of “world’s longest sea bridge,” a $20 billion price tag, nine years of construction, and a whole lot of controversy. Supporters say the bridge will massively reduce the time it takes to travel between the three places, reducing journey times from three hours to 30 minutes. But opponents have concerns about the impact of the bridge.
Some critics see the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge as an attempt by mainland China to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, which is an autonomous region. A Hong-Kong based writer for CityLab described the bridge as “a piece of infrastructural propaganda to announce the unity of China and her former colonies.” The bridge opens amid increasing fears that China is tightening its control over the region. Claudia Mo, a lawmaker who supports greater democracy in Hong Kong, told CNN earlier this year that the bridge was like an umbilical cord: “You see it, and you know you’re linked up to the motherland.”
Who gets to use it
Although the bridge is opening to traffic this week, making practical use of it may prove to be another challenge for citizens. Private cars will need a special permit to be allowed to drive on the bridge, and public transportation will not cross it. Shuttle busses crossing the bridge will cost between $8 and $10 for a one-way trip. Permits may not be easy to come by either. Hong Kong residence will have to vie for 300 permanent permits to drive to Macau, though a certain number of non-permit holders will be allowed to cross each day as well. Permits to drive to mainland China are only available under certain conditions, such as having paid a certain amount of tax on the mainland, having donated to mainland charities, or working for a “recognized high tech enterprise.”
The waters under the bridge are home to the Chinese white dolphin, a species whose population is seriously declining, with only 47 of them seen in the year from April 2017 to March 2018. Experts fear the bridge construction, in addition to expansion of the local airport, have sounded the death knell for the species, and governmental conservation efforts will prove to be too little too late.
The human cost
Nine workers have died in the construction of the bridge and 200 have been injured. Subcontractors carrying out works have been found to be endangering their workers, and questions have been raised as to the safety of the bridge itself, after photos that emerged earlier this year appeared to show concrete blocks from the construction “floating away.” Though officials said the placement of the blocks was intentional, it’s not a good time to have the safety of you bridge called into question.