Hong Kong’s transport minister said on Saturday he was still waiting for the final word on “when and how” the multibillion-dollar mega bridge linking the city with Macau and Zhuhai would open, dismissing speculation the commencement date was set for late October.
Media reports suggested the 55km bridge would open on October 27 or 28. But Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan said the three cities were still waiting for notification from the central government over the bridge’s opening.
“[On the] Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge [opening] by the end of this month, I must say this is news to me. Personally I don’t have any idea when the bridge is going to open,” Chan said after taking part in a radio programme.
The bridge will greatly cut travelling time between the three cities and marks a milestone in Beijing’s broader push for a “Greater Bay Area” – a scheme that aims to link Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong province into an integrated economic and business hub.
The governments of Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai held a three-day drill at the bridge at the end of September and then sent the results to Beijing, which would determine an opening date, the Post reported earlier.
Meanwhile, the transport chief insisted a proposed toll adjustment for the city’s three cross-harbour tunnels unveiled by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor in her policy address on Wednesday was the “best plan”.
“This proposal didn’t come easily. It was also a result of business negotiations. Any changes to it would mean the proposal agreed by the entities in principle cannot proceed,” he said.
Chan was referring to the government’s plan to nudge more drivers to use the Western Harbour Tunnel, easing long-standing congestion at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel in Hung Hom and Eastern Harbour Tunnel through Lam Tin.
Under the scheme, private cars will pay HK$40 (US$5.10) to use the Cross-Harbour and Eastern Harbour tunnels – up from HK$20 and HK$25 – while using the Western tunnel will cost HK$50 – HK$20 less than the current charge. The government proposed compensating the private operator for its losses from the plan, which it hoped to bring in at the start of 2020.
The government said traffic at peak hours would be reduced by between 34 and 42 per cent at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, and by 10 to 29 per cent at the Eastern Harbour Tunnel if the plan was introduced.
Amid opposition from across the political spectrum, Chan said the government and consultancy groups had come up with the plan, and he would try his best to explain it to the Legislative Council later.
He also brushed off suggestions that the government had a “threatening attitude” to Legco on the issue, saying he was just trying to explain the facts.
“I understand that some individual drivers would be affected in the process and need to pay a higher toll, but how do we judge its overall benefit to society?” he said.
“For example, our suggestion could help Hong Kong society save HK$800 million in social costs every year and reduce 3,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually … If we only see the disbursement paid by individuals but not what was paid by society, is this a balanced view?”