With a ceremony at the Zhuhai (Guangdong) immigration office, President Xi Jinping inaugurated the bridge that connects the Chinese city to Macao and Hong Kong this morning.
The bridge, 55 km long, allows the connection between the three cities in one hour. In the past, a journey of at least 4 hours was required from Zhuhai to Hong Kong. About 30 km of the route is over sea in front of the Pearl River delta. A part in the middle consists of an underwater tunnel, to allow the passage of ships on the surface. The tunnel is supported by two artificial islands.
The project was launched in 2009 and was due to be completed in 2016, with several delays and increased expenses, up to 20 billion US dollars. For its construction, 18 workers died and there were hundreds of injured.
For Li Xi, party secretary in Guangdong, the bridge is a sign that China “is second to none” in terms of engineering and will bring more unity to the Bay cities, along with an increase in tourism and the economy.
But many doubt the economic benefits: the bridge will need a lot of maintenance and this will absorb at least a third of the revenue, coming from tolls. A special permit is needed to travel on the bridge and the estimates on future traffic are low.
In 2008 it was thought that there would be over 33 thousand vehicles and 171 thousand passengers a day; another more recent study, in 2016, the estimates were reduced to 29 thousand vehicles and 126 thousand passengers.
According to some ecological groups, the construction of the bridge has so greatly polluted the waters that it is threatening the survival of the white dolphin, a rare species once present in the area.