Friday, February 28, 2014, 09:30
Focus HK: The bridge that’s building a city
By Sophie He

Focus HK: The bridge that’s building a city

Focus HK: The bridge that’s building a city

Of the 10 major infrastructure projects trotted out in recent years, including the South Island Line, the Kai Tak Development, and the Shatin to Central Link, none will have greater affect on the local economy than the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge — at least in the near term. Sophie He reports.

The annual expenditure of some HK$70 billion ($9.0 billion) on infrastructure from 2013 to 2018 compares to only HK$40 billion in annual expenditures from 2008 to 2013. Most economists agree that the current spending spree has contributed to Hong Kong’s rosy employment picture.

Together with the lesser infrastructure projects, like the South Island Railway Line, and the Sha Tin to Central Link, the Bridge has contributed to a seemingly insatiable demand for construction workers. There is, in fact, a labor shortage in other sectors, said Raymond So Wai-man, dean of the school of business at Hang Seng Management College.

That, in turn, helped to generate healthy local consumer demand. The trickledown effects, just from the bridge construction, already are having a healthy impact on several economic sectors.

By comparison however, what’s coming down that road will dwarf what we’re saying today, So points out. He stresses that the major benefits of the bridge won’t materialize until after work is completed at the end of 2016. For many years to come, the 55 kilometer sea crossing, linking the east and west coasts of the Pearl River Delta, is necessary to meet the demand for passenger and overland freight traffic between Hong Kong, and the Mainland (particularly the Pearl River West) and Macao.

Not to be forgotten, the massive East Lantau Development project, would not even be possible without that bridge. The Lantau development, announced by Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying in this year’s policy address, is so big — spreading over 144 square kilometers, that it amounts to construction of a whole new metropolis on the largely undeveloped Lantau Island.

Former Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said at a ceremony marking commencement of the bridge construction that the work would create vast new job opportunities. The works already approved by the Legislative Council will create more than 14,000 jobs. The works on building the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities (HKBCF) will create about 9,290 jobs, including about 1,410 positions for professional and technical staff and 7,880 laborers.

Chan Yan Chong, an associate professor at City University’s management sciences department, in an interview with China Daily, underscored that the bridge is a key component of the Hong Kong government’s plan to develop Lantau Island.

He explains that currently, Tung Chung (on the north-western coast of Lantau Island) faces challenges similar to what confronts residents of Tuen Mun and Tin Shui Wai. All are far from the city center, entailing arduous commutes.

Bridge creates new jobs

“If the residents of these areas want to work, they have to travel for a very long time on a daily basis,” said Chan, adding that currently, the unemployment rate at Tung Chung, Tuen Mun and Tin Shui Wai is higher, relatively speaking, than in the city’s core. High unemployment in any area often leads to social problems.

By developing Lantau, more jobs will be created for residents of Tung Chung.

“The first step was building the airport there, but jobs created by the airport were enough. More needs to be done.”

Chan said that completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, will open the way for new jobs in the tourism and logistics sector. The government plans to explore development of major shopping, dining, entertainment and hotel facilities to handle the incoming traffic. The new facilities will become part of the new boundary crossing complex. That’ll mean new service sector jobs.

Aside from being a crucial part of the government’s plan for developing Lantau Island, Chan also sees the bridge as a key to the expansion of the city’s logistics industries and essential to consolidate Hong Kong’s position as a cargo center.

Chan pointed out that the west bank of the Pearl River lacks a natural deep water port. The waters are too shallow. Without a deep water port, he added, it would be difficult to develop industries there.

“We can see that thanks to deep-water docks on the east bank of Pearl River, industries there are much more highly developed,” he said. “But it will all be different after the completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge,” Chan stressed. Pearl River West will flourish. Costs will be lower than at Pearl River East. New industries on the west side no longer will have to worry about port facilities, since the bridge will connect them directly to Hong Kong.

“Products of factories in the west, will be transported to Hong Kong and then shipped overseas. This will greatly enhance the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s logistics industry,” said Chan.

 Joe Fang Zhou, assistant chief research officer at One Country Two Systems Research Institute Ltd, has a different perspective. He told China Daily that the real value of the bridge will be for the tourism industry, predicting it will be of far greater impact than on cargo movement and logistics.

Still he is confident that the bridge also will enable Lantau Island to become the transportation hub for the Greater Pearl River Delta region.

The highway network linking the Pearl River Delta and Hong Kong Island comprises the bridge, the Tuen Mun- Chek Lap Kok Link and the Tuen Mun Western Bypass, all of which are currently under construction. Once that network is completed, Hong Kong and especially Lantau Island will become tied even more closely to the mainland, he said.