The road ahead - hurdles to overcome
If history repeats itself, then a bridge over Lingdingyang (or "lonely ocean") connecting the west and east banks of the Pearl River may not be far away. At least it can be counted in months and years, rather than in decades.
While Hong Kong engaged in heated debate about the need for a link with the western part of Pearl River Delta, on August 2002, Beijing approved building the world's longest sea crossing bridge in Hangzhou Bay.
But it took Zhejiang province, which oversees the bridge project, nine years to complete its dream. And the last hurdle -- a conclusive feasibility study and final approval -- took a whole year to overcome.
The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Bridge will need to surmount similar hurdles.
First hurdle - feasibility study
Sarah Liao, the Secretary for the Environment, Transport and Works of Hong Kong SAR, in a reply to Legislative Council, says that both the Central Government and Hong Kong SAR government will have to be satisfied that the crossing border link is technically, economically and financially viable. Since several studies already exist, Sarah Liao says that Hong Kong intends to complete this process within several months. In the meantime, she says that the government will liaise closely with the State Planning Commission - the central government organization responsible for China's major infrastructure projects.
Although various studies by pro-China groups in Hong Kong have stressed the importance of a link with the western part of the Pearl River Delta, Zhuhai cautioned at the end of 1999 that the earlier estimates of traffic flow between Zhuhai and Hong Kong were too optimistic. In its Master Development Plan Report, the city virtually abandoned further major infrastructure development.
Second hurdle - consultations
For any public engineering development project, Hong Kong's statutory procedure requires the government to consult the public to see if there is any valid objection. After an initial plan is drafted, it can take a medium-sized project close to four years (already shortened from six) to move through various stages of consultation and legislation before work can commence. For a major project such as the proposed bridge, more time will be required for detailed feasibility studies, environmental impact assessments, consultations with Legislative Council and relevant bodies, and possible land resumption.
Guangdong province has similar procedures in vetting a project's viability. According to a Hong Kong planning official who often deals with the Mainland, Chinese planners will typically spend time investigating all options, when narrowing down a number of options for detailed study can be more cost effective.
Even after Hong Kong and Guangdong are satisfied with the viability of the project, Central Government approval is required for a project of this scale
Third hurdle – negotiations
Once the viability of the project is established, however, obtaining approval may not be as time consuming. Since the State Development Planning Commission has agreed with Hong Kong to jointly study the project, securing Central Government approval may be less of a problem. Also, Guangdong province has been supportive of Beijing's policy to see to the well being of the Hong Kong SAR.
Fourth hurdle – financing
Of a sea link some 29 km in length, only about 2 km will be in Hong Kong waters. Hong Kong planning officials believe that sharing the cost of building the bridge, even if it has to be funded out of the public coffer, would not be a burden. However, the government will have to fund substantial investments for the supporting roadwork. The way one planning official puts it, the bridge is only the side dish while the link road is the main course.
Guangdong, on the other hand, may have its own considerations in financing the bridge. It previously turned down a RMB 5 billion rail link with Zhuhai due to reservations about the city's development potentials.
Ultimately, all parties concerned will need to work out a mutually agreeable financing plan. Also, aside from government funding, private sector financing will be another area to explore. (See Finances)