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Giant Bridge will Dive Under Sea

Friday, March 31, 2017

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A massive sea bridge that includes a 4-mile stretch of tunnel is still on target to meet its deadlines, officials say, despite numerous logistic and construction setbacks.

The Project

"This bridge is one of the most technically challenging projects in the history of transportation in China," claims Su Quanke, chief engineer of the HZMB Authority, the company overseeing the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge.

The bridge will span the Pearl River Delta and connect the three densely populated cities reducing a three-hour drive to a 30-minute commute.

Within the 18.3-mile bridge (which will use 420,000 tons of steel) is a stretch of tunnel 131 feet deep that runs between two artificially made islands. This creates a gap in the bridge was necessary to allow the frequent cargo ships to pass. A bridge with clearance for such ships was out of the question because of how close the structure is to the Hong Kong International Airport.

Wing1990hk, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A bridge with clearance for large ships was out of the question because of how close the structure is to the Hong Kong International Airport.

The scale of the project has not been a problem, Quanke says, but the coordination between all the different governments and lengthy environmental reviews have given the project a few speed bumps. There have also been several crew injuries and deaths since the beginning of construction in 2011.

Scene Accidents

On Wednesday (March 29) one worker died at the scene after a platform collapsed into the sea.

Three men were working on a 49-foot-long platform under the bridge that was secured by cables when those cables snapped and the platform fell. The cables injured at least two men on the bridge while the other three went down into the water with the platform.

Those men had been wearing life jackets that were harnessed to the platform and one of the men was able to unhook his vest and swim back to the site. Hours after the incident, a second man was found unconscious and rushed to North Lantau Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. As of late Thursday morning, the third man who was on the platform was still missing. According to the South China Morning Post, at least eight workers have died while working on the project.

Emergency Remedial Work

In addition to accidents and government logistics, the crews have had to do some damage control on the site, most notably when two seawalls collapsed along one of the islands in 2014. In November of that year, on-site supervisors had discovered two of the seawalls had extended between 16 and 32 feet. The contractor responsible for that part of the project, China State Construction Engineering, immediately conducted remedial work and absorbed the costs, which was completed by the end of 2015.

James Wong, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong’s bridge section is coming with a price tag of about $15 billion and is expected to be complete at the end of 2017 despite all the challenges.

The Highway Department did not disclose this information to the public until last month, citing that it presented no harm to public safety.

“That’s why we hadn’t announced anything about it. We have resolved all those problems; we don’t think there is a need to tell the public about it. If we do so, maybe every day we have to tell something about the project to the public,” Director of Highways Daniel Chung Kum-wah said.

He added that the movement was a “natural phenomenon” because of the pressure exerted on the seawalls and that the incident would not impact the timeline.

This part of the project, Hong Kong’s bridge section, is coming with a price tag of about HK$117 billion (about $15 billion) and is expected to be complete at the end of 2017 despite all the challenges.

The entire project is estimated to be completed in 2020, though the three governments have not settled on a targeted opening date.

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 11:30 a.m. Friday (March 31) to correct the depth of the tunnel.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Bridges; Business matters; Construction; Tunnel

Comment from M. Halliwell, (3/31/2017, 11:16 AM)

Sounds like a challenging project! I have to assume you mean "25 feet deep" rather than "25 miles deep" for the tunnel though. Also, sounds like the construction work needs a safety boost...that's a lot of workers getting hurt or killed on this project.

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