Builders of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge under construction appears like a dragon hovering over the Lingdingyang Channel. by Ji Shunli

Aseemingly impossible mission, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) was just a dream 35 years ago, and in 2018 it will begin service. Behind the engineering marvel, tens of thousands of constructors contributed painstaking efforts to realize this dream.

Zhu Yongling

Director of the HZMB Authority 

Joined the project in 2004 

Former chairman of Guangdong Provincial Expressway Development Co., Ltd., Zhu Yongling joined the HZMB project as director of the preparatory office before becoming director of the HZMB Authority. Zhu contributed 14 years to the project, devoting a large chunk of his adult life to the bridge. He considers the bridge a pilot field at the intersection of “One Country, Two Systems” that taps into the advantages of the three regions. And the project embodied the participants’ initiative and consolidated strength from all walks of life. Zhu facilitated sound coordination between governments of the three regions, using both reason and affection. He believes people’s hearts are connected. He is adept at discovering able people and placing them in suitable posts and encouraging contractors and employees to innovate. He thinks that his job is to motivate rather than manage personnel. The bridge has now been completed. He gave the credit and honor to his colleagues. “If people still remember that I was the first director of the HZMB Authority a century from now, that would be enough.”  

Yu Lie 

Deputy Director of the HZMB Authority 

Joined the project in 2004 

For the first four years, Yu Lie participated in preparatory research, surveying and preparing materials. He was later tasked with managing project construction. For the next eight years, he was responsible for environmental protection. Later, his work involved preparation work for the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) management system and communication. A gigantic stack of 14 years of working notes, 20,000 documents and over 400 pages of emails testify to his dedication to the project, as well as trace the bridge’s incubation to completion. Yu considers himself and his engineer peers lucky to be able to participate in the great project. “But you would not envy us if you saw the stretches when we were stranded on islands, ships and bridges for seven years,” Yu gasps. “We stayed up all night holding our breath through 33 typhoon alerts.” Adjectives he used to describe the work include glorious, but also boring, arduous, difficult and even frustrating. The project is near an end. For the foreseeable future, Yu will continue to manage the bridge’s operation. He believes that there is nothing more to say about the bridge, because “it speaks for itself.” 

Zhang Jinwen

Director of Engineering of the HZMB Authority 

Joined the project in 2004 

When he arrived at the preparatory office of the HZMB project at the age of 29, Zhang Jinwen left his position as deputy director of the Engineering Department at Guangdong Provincial Expressway Development Co., Ltd., giving up a promising future in the company. At first, many questioned how he, a novice at bridge construction, could be appointed chief engineering supervisor. His actions across years have provided an answer. Since the construction of the bridge is finished, what will he do next? “I have no idea because I haven’t yet found a more challenging project,” Zhang grins. He plans to summarize the experience first and to leave it for posterity. “We salute our predecessors with the project and hope it can serve as a ‘shoulder’ to subsequent generations.” In his opinion, a bridge will be remembered as an icon of the times. The bridge represents the comprehensive strength of the country and serves as a symbol of the achievement of the reform and opening-up policy which has been implemented for 40 years. “What we did is not actually so great—we just did what engineers should do.” 

Gao Xinglin 

Assistant Director of the HZMB Authority and Director of the Authority’s Planning and Contract Department 

Joined the project in 2008 

Before joining the bridge project, Gao Xinglin worked for Guangdong Provincial Department of Transportation. Seeking more challenging work, he led a team to engage in bidding, planning and contracts management, as well as early operation and maintenance management for the bridge. Gao remains director of the Planning and Contract Department, so he is still responsible for overseeing planning for usage of the artificial intelligence technology in the operation of the bridge. Gao studies English, reads books and works out every day. “Continuous learning motivates our team to keep moving forward,” he says. “Reading helps me find inner peace so I can avoid getting flustered.” He attributes the success of the bridge to the team’s devotion and good timing. The achievement of both individuals and the project intertwined with the times. “The bridge mirrors the strength of the country in the world,” he says. “As an engineer, I contributed everything I could. I feel more honor than pride. It was a responsibility.” 

Duan Guoqin 

Director of the Safety and Environmental Protection Department of the HZMB Authority 

Joined the project in 2005 

Duan Guoqin never boasts of the safety and environment protection achievements he spearheaded during construction of the bridge. Unlike technical and on-site construction departments, his job primarily focused on guaranteeing the smooth progress of the project. So Duan’s big victories occurred when nothing happened. However, Duan believes that to do well in safety and environmental protection work, one should be willing to contribute in a supporting role behind the scenes. Since joining the Office of the HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group in 2005 as one of the 13 pioneers of the project, he spent a total of 13 years safeguarding the smooth progress of the super project. Over these years, not a single employee left his department. Duan attributed the low turnover to the fact that the other projects were not as attractive as this one, but a harmonious working atmosphere was also a major factor. Now, as the project receives finishing touches, the Safety and Environmental Protection Department has come to the fore from the wings to permanently become an operation department responsible for further management and maintenance of the bridge. Actually, it’s rare for a single group to be responsible for so many pieces of a project. “But if we delegate bridge operation and maintenance to others, it might affect efficiency,” Duan explains. “So it would be quite satisfying for me to manage this bridge well.” Hoping for smooth sailing, Duan proposed an operation concept of “big safety and big monitoring.” 

Wang Fang 

Staff of the Planning and Contract Department of the HZMB Authority 

Joined the project in 2012 

“The project is huge and unparalleled,” says 29-year-old Wang Fang. Some of his classmates have climbed to the position of deputy chief engineer in other projects, but he remains the most admired because he got access to such a super project. Wang still remembers the teacher of his bridge engineering class stressing that it would be quite meaningful for anyone in his realm to participate in such a mega-project. When he showed up for work at the HZMB Authority, the 23-year old was the youngest employee of all of the HZMB Authority, which resulted in a fair amount of pressure. “Whether or not he or she likes to study, everyone in the HZMB Authority continuously learns or he or she will quickly fall behind,” he surmises. As the construction of the bridge progressed, the learning culture and harmonious atmosphere in the HZMB Authority also improved rapidly. 

Dai Xihong 

Deputy Director of the Safety and Environmental Protection Department of the HZMB Authority 

Joined the project in 2009 

Before joining the project in 2009, Dai Xihong was a senior engineer with rich experience in construction. To meet the HZMB Authority’s urgent need for elites in safety and environmental protection, he agreed to transfer to the department and handle maritime coordination and navigation management. It is easy to see results and achievements in technical departments. However, safety and management work requires a lot of time and energy with hardly any big payout in terms of achievement. “We set up 157 navigation marks including three major parts of central navigation, side navigation and water navigation, just like the traffic lights on the road,” Dai explains. The department established a professional navigation mark platform for bridge builders to ensure their safety. His work not only created a precedent in the field of bridge construction, but also represented an important move to practice of the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) concept. 

Cai Junfu 

Traffic Engineering Manager for the HZMB Project of China Railway Construction Electrification Bureau Group Co., Ltd. 

Joined the project in 2014 

The traffic engineering project of the HZMB includes 12 subsystems of communication, toll collection, monitoring, power supply and distribution, lighting and more, essentially composing its own mega-system. Normally, bridge projects would invite separate bids for each item, but the HZMB project opted for packaged bidding for all the items, integrating every subsystem into a management platform. Cai Junfu and his team eventually won the bid, which was a great challenge to them. Cai has accumulated tremendous experience in management of highspeed rail system integration. In the HZMB project, he promoted the development of a full life-cycle technology platform and service system based on building information model (BIM), which adopt artificial intelligence technology and can provide big data. Because of his admiration and respect for the bridge, Cai devoted considerable extra effort to the project. 

Yu Lijun 

Staff of the HZMB Transportation Engineering Department of China Railway Construction Electrification Bureau Group Co., Ltd. 

Joined the project in 2014 

Yu Lijun was nicknamed “island owner” by his colleagues. He coordinated the construction of the western artificial island. His job included coordinating the construction schedule, organizing the construction process, allocating resources and arranging labor. During the busiest days, over 1,000 builders from his department were working at the same time. With over 40 companies participating in the construction of the grand bridge, Yu’s team had to start working after the civil engineering was finished. The job of his department was always influenced by other procedures. In August 2017, Severe Typhoon Hato landed in Zhuhai. Workers were evacuated under the coordination of Yu’s team. When the artificial island first took shape, the site had no access to water or electricity. Workers slept in containers. Most of their meals were instant noodles. Some stayed for as long as a month before getting back to land. Yu, however, enjoyed it. “The painstaking work and standards of the project are not matched by any other project.”

Liu Gang

Staff of the Planning and Contract

Department of the HZMB Authority

Joined the project in 2009

The HZMB project involves three legal areas, but Liu Gang is the only legal professional in the HZMB Authority. After transferring from Guangdong Provincial Department of Transportation, Liu’s first task was to research and hire legal advisers for the project. Due to the requirements of governments of the three involved regions (Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao), an association composed of four law firms from Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao won the bid. “Once, at a meeting attended by the three parties we sorted out over 100 problems, which all needed attention,” recalls Liu. After back-and-forth communication with legal experts from all three places, two important documents were finalized including an agreement between the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao on construction, operation, maintenance and management of the HZMB and the Constitution of the HZMB Authority. Questions about bridge construction, distribution of rights and obligations of the three parties and detailed duty divisions could all be answered by the agreement and the constitution. The Planning and Contract Department has maintained a good learning atmosphere and created a training club covering multiple subjects and majors to provide internal training courses to improve core professional abilities, global outlook and thinking methods of employees. Liu is the chief planner of the training club. 

Liu Jingguo

Project Manager of the First Prefabricated Factory of Island & Tunnel Project of HZMB Joint Venture of China Communications Construction Co., Ltd. 

Joined the project in 2011  

As a young manager in his 30s, Liu Jingguo worked on construction of the high-speed railway connecting Beijing and Shanghai after graduation. He began working for the bridge project in 2011 and was tasked with overseeing the manufacturing of immersed tubes and the construction of artificial islands. In his opinion, the bridge is both an excellent platform and a good opportunity. He personally witnessed the improvements brought by the project, which sustained his passion for this project. During his years at the construction site, the schedule was very tight, and he had to work even during the weekends. According to the arrangement, the team got five days off every three months, but Liu missed most of them because he was in charge. The engineering staffers were so dedicated that even when construction was coming to its end, Liu was still reluctant to leave. “No other project has lasted so long with so much persistent effort.” 

Xiong Junming 

Bricklayer for Island & Tunnel Project of HZMB Joint Venture of China Communications Construction Co., Ltd. 

Joined the project in 2017 

“The project has really strict requirements and no slight deviations are allowed,” notes Xiong Junming. “Lin Ming, chief engineer of the island and tunnel section of the bridge, stayed at the site every day to make sure that every detail was right. It was such a great project. We’re here, so we’d better do a good job.” At 56, Xiong joined the project as a skilled bricklayer from Chongqing. He had visited many places with construction teams, but the bridge impressed him most. Even his son worked on it as a welder. When his work was finished, he took his father there. Competitive pay and a satisfying working atmosphere were the biggest factors in Xiong’s positive feelings about the job. Although it was a rare opportunity to see white dolphins from the island where he worked, Xiong saw them many times. “The undersea tunnel was built with 33 tubes,” he gasps. “How wonderful! This is such a huge project and has attracted many foreign visitors. Our work even appeared on TV programs. I felt grateful for the chance to participate in the project.” 

Wang Xiaoshuai 

Publicity Officer of Island & Tunnel Project of HZMB Joint Venture of China Communications Construction Co., Ltd. 

Joined the project in 2017 

Wang Xiaoshuai felt lucky when he was informed in the summer of 2017 that he had been hired for the HZMB project after employee onboarding training at China Communications Construction Co., Ltd. In fact, by then, the graduate with a degree in material science “had no idea about engineering, just knew it was a great bridge.” Wang found life at the construction site extremely hard. They ate and lived on the artificial islands. The dormitory shared by four colleagues was less inviting than his dorm in school. At night, they could hear the roar of flights above them and construction noise below. During summers, he wore a “necklace” of mosquito bites. Wang found the weak phone signal especially uncomfortable. He would have to go to the end of the bridge to send a message to his girlfriend. His entertainment was limited to watching planes and ships from a distance. At the construction site, he met many visitors from home and abroad and learned a lot from them. He lived with workers every day and was impressed by their earnestness and persistence. Engineers taught him hard work and dedication. 

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