China unveils the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge: The $20 billion ‘umbilical cord’ | Sunday Observer

China unveils the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge: The $20 billion ‘umbilical cord’

(CNN) As we drive down the eerily deserted Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the murky waters of the Pearl River Delta stretch as far as the eye can see. There is no land in sight.

Spanning 34 miles (55 kilometers), this is the longest sea-crossing bridge ever built. Guo Xinglin, assistant director and senior engineer at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority, meets us half way along. As we are buffeted by a strong wind, the tough conditions his construction crew experienced, as they perched on precarious platforms, working miles from land and high over the water, are evident.

Xinglin is visibly proud of his country’s monumental achievement.

Due to open to the public this summer, this long snake of bitumen will connect a relatively small city on the Chinese mainland with the two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.

But since the bridge was first suggested in 2003, it has stirred controversy. This massive span of concrete and steel is not just proof of China’s ability to build record-setting megastructures -- it’s also a potent symbol of the country’s growing geopolitical ambitions.

As tensions simmer between the mainland and Hong Kong and Taiwan, and China continues to claim territory in the South China Sea, the bridge can be seen as a physical manifestation of the Chinese leadership’s determination to exert its regional influence. Critics have also questioned the environmental and human toll and the immense financial cost of the project.

China’s Greater Bay Area

The speed limit on the bridge has been set at 62 miles (100 kilometers) an hour. Cars will drive on the right along the Chinese sections of the bridge, and switch to the left in Hong Kong and Macau, to match the driving styles in each city.Although the bridge is not yet open to the public, the main construction work has been completed and driving trials are being conducted.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge runs alongside Hong Kong’s international airport -- the busiest cargo airport in the world. A key reason for building the bridge is that it will facilitate the export of goods from factories located on the west side of the Pearl River Delta.