HK-Macau bridge is 10b yuan over budget and still has no start date

The main bridge portion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhau-Macau Bridge is 10 billion yuan (HK$11.8 billion) over its original budget of 15.7 billion yuan and appears likely to miss its year-end target opening date.

In a statement today, the Transport and Housing Bureau attributed the 64% overrun – the latest in a series of blowouts at the controversial project –  to an “escalation in the construction costs arising from the increase in labour and material costs as well as the refinement of the design and construction.”

It said the 10 billion yuan figure was based on contractors’ estimates. State Council had been advised of the overrun, while in Hong Kong the bureau would seek extra funds from Legco.

The statement added that three sides – Hong Kong, Macau and Beijing – had “agreed to make their best endeavours to… achieve the target of completing” the main bridge by the end of  the year. 

However, the commissioning date was still unclear and would be determined by a task force, it said.

For the Hong Kong public purse, the blowout is not quite as bad as it seems.

Under the original funding formula, the city contributed just 42% of the estimated cost and will shoulder the same portion of any additional expenditure.

And in the context of the entire scheme, the bridge itself is a relatively small cost.

The 29.6 km main bridge, which includes a 6.7km tunnel, is just one of four projects that are currently estimated to cost the SAR HK$118.5 billion.

According to the HZMB Authority, these are:

  • the main bridge (HK$7.95 billion)
  • Hong Kong Link Road – the viaduct and tunnel running along Lantau’s north coast to Chek Lap Kok (HK$25.0 billion)
  • Boundary crossing facilities – 150ha of reclaimed land and the cargo and passenger clearance centres, public transport and other facilities being built on top (HK$38.9 billion – originally HK$30.4 billion)
  • Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link – a bridge and tunnel connection to Tuen Mun (HK$46.7 billion)

These estimates don’t include the other project, the freeway north from Tuen Mun toward the border, which has not yet been costed.

The bridge was originally scheduled to open in 2016, but has been delayed because of a series of mishaps, in particular at the Hong Kong end.

Since that target was missed, Hong Kong and mainland officials have said the bridge would be ready for service by the end of 2017. When Xi visited the project in July, he was assured the timetable would be met.

With less than seven weeks to go that seems unlikely.

Photo (top): Tunnel entrance near Lantau coast (Source: HZMB Authority)

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