China just opened the world's largest sea bridge. It could connect up to 70 million people in the Chinese mega-region.
- China unveiled the world's longest sea bridge at an October ceremony in Hong Kong.
- The bridge saw an influx of tourists from the Chinese mainland, but Hong Kong seemed ill-prepared to deal with the traffic.
- The nation's Guangdong province issued a 48-hour suspension of one-day weekend trips and imposed certain restrictions on shuttle services, leading to a major drop off in passengers.
Two months after China unveiled the world's longest sea bridge at a ceremony in Hong Kong, the nation has already struggled to accommodate an influx of tourists.
In November, the Guangdong province temporarily suspended one-day weekend trips to Hong Kong to reduce the number of tourists entering from mainland China. The ban only lasted for two days, but it seemed to spark a major dip in passengers.
Community members have said that restrictions to the bridge's shuttle services are also to blame.
At more than 34 miles long, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is part of a master plan to create a global science and technology hub by connecting two Chinese territories, Hong Kong and Macau (the world's largest gambling center), to nine nearby cities.
With an economic output of $1.5 trillion, the new mega-region — known as the Greater Bay Area — is positioned to rival Silicon Valley. The plan also includes the construction of an $11 billion bullet train, which opened in September.
The bridge is not open to public transit, so only certain vehicles — shuttles, freight cars, and private cars with permits — are allowed to cross. Pedestrians and bicyclists are prohibited.
Take a look at its remarkable design below.
The $20 billion structure is 20 times as long as the Golden Gate Bridge.
The title of world's largest sea bridge previously belonged to the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge, which stretches 26.3 miles.
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is designed to last for more than a century, with the capacity to withstand major storms and earthquakes.
The structure should hold up in the face of 211 mph winds. That claim was put to the test in September, when Typhoon Mangkhut swept through Hong Kong, destroying roofs, shattering windows, and toppling trees.
The bridge is made of 420,000 tons of steel — enough to build 60 Eiffel Towers.
Source: Business Insider
The bridge's towers were inspired by three elements: Chinese knots, the Chinese white dolphin, and the mast of a boat.
Source: The Guardian
The bridge's curves are designed to resemble a snake.
Source: The Guardian
A 4-mile underwater tunnel connects two artificial islands, which help support the structure.
The tunnel was built below the water to prevent the disruption of shipping lanes. The Greater Bay Area is one of the busiest shipping areas in the world, with about 4,000 vessels passing through each day.
Construction kicked off in 2009 and was set to finish in 2016 but was delayed because of budget and safety concerns.
Source: The Guardian
Nine workers have died and more than 200 have been injured over the course of construction.
Nineteen workers have also been charged with faking concrete-test reports.
Some have questioned the bridge's stability after photos appeared to show its wave-absorbing concrete blocks drifting off into the water.
Authorities said the structure was intended to be partially submerged, though renderings tell a different story.
Environmentalists fear that construction has threatened the livelihood of the Chinese white dolphin.
The area where the Pearl River meets the South China Sea was once a sanctuary for the species, whose population has declined since construction began.
Officials expect the bridge to cut commute times in half.
Shuttle buses run every 10 minutes.
The bridge includes a designated merge point, where cars can switch to the appropriate side of the road.
People in Hong Kong and Macau drive on the left side of the road, while those in mainland China drive on the right.
To cross the bridge, pedestrians and drivers without a permit must purchase a shuttle ticket, costing $8 to $10.
When the bridge first opened, its port in Hong Kong welcomed around 100,000 daily passengers at peak periods.
Source: South China Morning Post
A month later, the Guangdong province issued a 48-hour ban on one-day weekend trips to Hong Kong to reduce traffic.
Tourism authorities issued an urgent notice to travel agencies, asking them to refrain from transporting visitors across the bridge.
Officials also received reports that unlicensed tour guides were operating illegally, but claim to have addressed the problem.
Officials also imposed restrictions on the bridge's shuttle services.
Mainland passengers traveling from the southern city of Zhuhai to Hong Kong now have to pre-order their tickets or face steeper prices at the terminal. Each person is no longer allowed to purchase more than ten tickets.
By December, the number of daily passengers at peak hours at Hong Kong's port had fallen to between 60,000 and 70,000.
Lau Wing-yin, the co-founder of a local activist group, told the South China Morning Post that the shuttle restrictions were to blame.
"The government didn't get the community ready by providing sufficient facilities before it opened the bridge in haste," he said. "Hong Kong didn't expect so many tourists and didn't think about how to guide them to other parts of the city."