By Jeanne Ongiyo
As the world observes in bated breath for activity along the vast Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge (HZMB) to pick momentum after its first few hours of operation, the successful completion of this G-to-G mammoth infrastructural project has ignited a fresh debate on its viability.
The construction progress faced its fair share of issues caused by lawsuits, budget overruns and safety concerns which in turn led to construction delays, but there is more to what meets the eye now that construction is behind us.
Analysts and the general public have raised concerns about the bridge with some claiming that it is not worth 20 billion dollars of taxpayers hard earned money.
Though the 55km long bridge is poised to enhance regional integration with mainland China, Macao and Hong Kong being co-owners of the project naysayers have cited that the bridge is an attempt for China to reign supreme over Macao and Hong Kong who are have overtime been declared special administrative units with independent government policies from mainland China.
Despite connecting the three economic hubs, people from Hong Kong and Macao will need special permits issued by China to cross the bridge. These permits are issued after the motorists are vetted to ensure that they meet some strict criteria as stipulated by the Chinese administration.
This factor does not sit well with economists and analysts who have cited that owing to the huge investment that went into construction of the bridge contributed by the parties involved should at least guarantee free usage for its people or access with less stringent measures.
Additionally, since the HZMB is considered to be in mainland China, drivers from Hong Kong and Macao who are used to right-hand traffic will be forced to automatically adapt to left-hand traffic which is the acceptable standard.
Cars accessing the bridge will have to stop and change sides at designated points which to some degree is forcefully ensuring that all drivers comply with the traffic rules and regulations of mainland China.
The HZMB also comes installed with yawn cameras that send alerts to the relevant authorities when the driver yawns more than 3 times within 20 seconds. Aimed at reducing the rate of accidents due to fatigue, the cameras are bound to trip false alarms once in a while owing to perceived yawning during karaoke, hunger or just idle mouth exercises in traffic.
Since inception, the construction of the HZMB has been one of the most criticised initiatives with conservationists and animal rights lobby groups blaming the bridge construction for the drop in numbers of the now extinct Chinese White Dolphin.
CCCC, the contractors of the bridge, who are also facing a similar situation in the construction of the Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya across the Nairobi National Park, have however come out to defend themselves saying that they put in place measures to ensure that there is minimal disturbance of the Chinese White Dolphin habitat.
CCCC explained that whenever a dolphin is cited as close as 50m away from the construction site, work is halted temporarily while the work intensity in the next 100m radius is reduced. The bridge also earned the title “Bridge of Death” owing to the high number of reported deaths of personnel during the construction process.
The longevity and profitability has also been questioned from time to time. With another bridge being constructed just north of Zhuhai, traffic along the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge is predicted to drop significantly by 2030 hence implying that it will be redundant then.
However, this bridge can be hyped as the most preferred route by traders, investors and private developers hence guaranteeing its full usage for the movement of goods and services. This, however, wholly depends on the safety and smooth operation in the coming months.
Though there are strong calls both for and against the profitability of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge and the great economic prospects especially in the East, only time will tell the overall success of this 120-year investment plan.
Will this be just another white elephant project propelled by the Chinese in their cradle or will it be cash cow that expands the regions’ economic prospects?