39km-bridge connecting Hong Kong with mainland China opens to traffic

Jack Loughran

Engineering and Technology, October 2018

A bridge-tunnel system connecting Hong Kong with mainland China for the first time has opened following a 10-year construction period.

The Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge is one of the longest fixed links in the world and a portion of it goes under the sea to allow ships to pass over.

Chinese president Xi Jinping presided over a ceremony in the city of Zhuhai to open the 39km-long bridge linking it to the semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

The £15bn bridge suffered a number of major delays and cost overruns during the lengthy construction period.

Originally set to be opened to traffic in October 2016, the structure was not completed until 14 November 2017 and only opened to the public today.

hong kong mainland china bridge map

The initial traffic flow will be heavily regulated with permits issued to drivers under a quota system and a toll will be charged.

The bridge will cut travel time across the delta from several hours to just 30 minutes, something China hopes will bind the region together as a major driver of future economic growth.

China is employing a number of unusual technologies on the bridge to prevent accidents or heavy traffic. This includes a “yawn cam” that will track driver’s faces and if one yawns more than three times in 20 seconds an alert will be raised.

In addition, drivers will have their heart rate and blood pressure monitored with this information sent to the bridge’s control centre.

Vehicles will need to stick to the right-hand side when travelling across the bridge, as this is the custom in mainland China and then switch to the left once they reach the formerly British-occupied territory of Hong Kong.

The bridge forms a physical link between the mainland and Hong Kong, an Asian financial hub that was handed over from British to Chinese control in 1997 with the assurance that it would maintain its own legal and economic system for 50 years.

That carries major political significance for Mr Xi’s administration, which has rejected calls for political liberalisation in Hong Kong, sparking fears Beijing will clamp down further on civil liberties before the end of the “one country, two systems” arrangement in 2047.

The bridge’s opening also comes a month after the inauguration of a new high-speed rail link from Hong Kong to mainland China that runs along a different, shorter route.

That line has vastly decreased travel times but also raised concerns about Beijing’s growing influence, as mainland Chinese law applies within part of the line’s Hong Kong terminus.