The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Project of the Era

The Zhuhai port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. After passing inspection at the port, vehicles can proceed across the 55-kilometer bridge. by Chen Xianyao

By 2003, China had undergone 25 years of reform and opening up, and Hong Kong had been returned to the motherland for more than five years. That year, the nations GDP grew 10 percent to nearly 1.4 trillion yuan, and its Shenzhou 5 spacecraft was launched.

 In August of the same year, the State Council of China approved the launch of preparatory work for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) project and agreed to set up the HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group. 

Soon, the Office of HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group, the predecessor of todays HZMB Authority, was established. It was responsible for pre-construction research and preparatory work for the launch of the project. In July 2010, the Office completed its mission and was replaced by the HZMB Authority. As the proprietor of the bridge, the HZMB Authority, which initially comprised only 13 members, oversees construction management, operation and maintenance of the project. Their wisdom and expertise as well as a great sense of dedication and responsibility have resulted in epoch-making achievements after 15 years of tireless efforts. 

A Visionary Team 

On March 30, 2004, Zhu Yongling, former chairman of Guangdong Provincial Expressway Development Co., Ltd., was appointed director of the Office of HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group. At that time, the Office was tasked only with tracking the feasibility study for the HZMB project and soliciting relevant public opinion. 

Most of the 13 original members of the Office came from the transportation sector of Guangdong Province, including 36-year-old Yu Lie, then deputy director of the Engineering Department at Guangdong Provincial Department of Transportation, 42-year-old Su Quanke, then chief engineer of Guangdong Hualu Technology Co., Ltd., and 29-year-old Zhang Jinwen, then vice director of the Department of Engineering Management of Guangdong Provincial Expressway Development Co., Ltd. Later, the addition of capable professionals such as Gao Xinglin from Guangdong Provincial Department of Transportation made the team even stronger. 

The moment they took the HZMB project job, these professionals, most of whom were born in the 1960s and 1970s, realized that they were lucky to participate in such an important project. “Due to its unprecedented features, the project will certainly become a milestone in world bridge history,” Zhang Jinwen predicted. 

Soon after the Office of HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group was founded, Zhu Yongling felt that because the project was “unbelievably massive,” a major concern was that the team’s competence might not match up. As the planner, coordinator, organizer and implementer of the mega-project, its construction management team had to persistently meet or surpass the requirements of the bridge project. Surpassing every standard became the goal of the Group. 

The HZMB links Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao and its megastructure comprises bridges, artificial islands, and an undersea tunnel. It goes through the habitat for the Chinese white dolphin, an endangered species under first-class state protection, which required the project to follow strict environmental standards during construction. Moreover, the project faced a multitude of difficulties including the need for cutting-edge engineering technologies. As the most complicated mega-bridge project in China and the world, tremendous struggles emerged to challenge existing knowledge structures, ways of thinking, comprehensive quality and the insight and judgment of members of the Office of HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group. According to the plan, the Office would complete a feasibility report, relevant planning and specialized research for the project by 2008. 

Preparatory work didn’t progress smoothly. Because of varied interests of relevant local governments and sectors, involved parties had to conduct lengthy discussions and negotiations when determining foothold locations and navigation channels, choosing port inspection modes, coordinating anchorages and financing methods and clarifying project administrative division and management structure. 

“In those days, our knowledge and experience were insufficient for the challenges of the HZMB project,” Zhu recalled. “All we could do was to learn from others with an open heart.”

 With progression of the project, the team has increasingly been reinforced. The Planning and Contract Department of the Office of HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group was responsible for planning management, schedule ratification, and contract signing. In 2003, the department established a special task force to survey major bridges around China and seek training in countries such as Britain, Japan, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Members of the task force learned quite a lot during those surveys, including advanced bridge deck pavement technologies, the new concept of increasing construction investments to reduce maintenance cost and designs to prolong the operational life of bridges. 

Thanks to the surveys, members of the department also realized that although China started early in bridge construction, it still lagged behind in terms of project management, technology and construction quality compared to some developed countries. Thus, they became committed to making the HZMB project an opportunity to eliminate the gap. 

As their understanding of the project deepened, members of the Office of HZMB Advanced Work Coordination Group gained insight into the policies, laws, management systems, administrative procedures, technical standards and ways of thinking of the three regions involved. By the end of 2008, they had formed a clear vision: Build a world-class project on par with China’s strength to herald a great new era.  

July 7, 2017: Staffers of the Hong KongZhuhai-Macao Bridge (HZMB) Authority pose for a photo in front of a bridge tower in the shape of a Chinese knot when the two sections of the bridge were joined. courtesy of the HZMB Authority

In 2009, the year after the Beijing Olympics, the Wenchuan Earthquake and the 2008 international financial crisis, then-Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao declared that the HZMB project would begin construction within that year because its financing had been settled. He announced that all preparatory work had progressed smoothly, when meeting Chinese and foreign journalists after the second session of the 11th National Peoples Congress.

On December 15 of the same year, Li Keqiang, then-member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and vice premier of the State Council, attended the groundbreaking ceremony of the HZMB project in Zhuhai.

Cooperation and Partnership

In May 2010, Zhu Yongling was appointed director of the HZMB Authority. Given that China’s mainland, Hong Kong and Macao feature the policy of “One Country, Two Systems,” the project involving all three regions was unrivaled, and no precedent had been set in terms of cooperative construction and management. Considering the different ways of thinking, values and social systems in the three regions, as a primary goal of the HZMB Authority, Zhu was determined to guarantee smooth progression of the project.

Compared to large-scale infrastructure projects carried out on the Chinese mainland, the HZMB involved the joint inspection and approval by the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao. Quality had to exceed the highest applicable standard in any of the three regions, and its environmental specifications had to be world class, which posed considerable challenges for the project’s management and construction efficiency. Establishing good relationships with the three governments and winning their trust and support became a prerequisite for the HZMB Authority to move forward the construction of the project.

June 5, 2014: A crane installs the CB03 section of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. Methods such as prefabrication and block laying were adopted in the construction of the bridge. by Lu Zhihua

Hong Kong and Macao stressed on following the rules and regulations, while the mainland advocated integrating principles and flexibility. This evidences the different philosophies of officials in those regions when handling affairs. When the HZMB Authority was first established, the governments of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao signed the agreements and documents that met their respective laws, regulations and management requirements. The HZMB Authority strictly abides by those agreements and documents and shares details of its decision-making process and implementation results with the three governments in a transparent and timely manner, earning trust for the Authority from all three governments.

The governments of Hong Kong and Macao each dispatched a representative to act as deputy director of the HZMB Authority. They participate in the daily operation of the HZMB Authority and report relevant information to their respective governments. By doing so, the Hong Kong and Macao governments obtained deep understanding of the pressure and difficulties Zhu Yongling and his colleagues faced, and expressed admiration for their dedication.

Zhang Jinwen, director of engineering at the HZMB Authority, feels like it was a miracle that the cooperative mechanism has operated so smoothly for 15 years.

Since the very beginning, the HZMB Authority stressed that the project must completely adopt international design and construction standards. A total of 11 overseas companies and institutions joined various phases of design, consulting and management of the project. “Effectively integrating advantageous resources from around the globe and embracing every advanced technology, piece of equipment and material indicate that the project is an international effort,” commented Yu Lie.

Previously, the Chinese mainland adopted one set of national quality standards concerning bridge construction, Hong Kong followed British standards and Macao used the European standards. The HZMB Authority determined that coherent standards should serve as the foundation of the project, so it designed a full set of technical standards for the design, construction, quality assessment, operation and management of the HZMB project.

“We prefer flexible management attitudes,”noted Zhang Jinwen. “We adopt standards based on rational consideration of actual conditions.”  The designed service life of the Hangzhou Bay Bridge on the Chinese mainland is 100 years, but the HZMB adopted the Hong Kong standard of 120 years. As its designed service life is expanded, all other standards must be elevated accordingly. When China’s national economy was still weak, construction standards were formulated to save costs and enhance efficiency, so factors such as design, environmental protection and even quality were not top considerations. Nowadays, with the dramatic improvement of the nation’s comprehensive strength, administrators and builders have set goals to construct excellent projects that can benefit later generations.

“As the HZMB began construction, how to handle relations with contractors, supervisors and other stakeholders and form a joint force became a question pondered over by all members of the HZMB Authority,”recalled Gao Xinglin.

Organizing such a massive, complicated project with multiple technical difficulties, the HZMB Authority invented a creative management mode called “partnership.” To motivate contractors and constructors, it entrusted both design and construction of the project to them, thus avoiding a rift between design and construction. This has not only reduced risk, but also enhanced construction efficiency.

In the eyes of Zhu Yongling, such a partnership is the cornerstone of all management systems. The HZMB Authority shows respect and trust for contractors while ensuring costs and quality control on behalf of the governments of the three regions involved as well as protection of investments.

Contractors also recognized the “partnership” concept. More importantly, all stakeholders reached a consensus: The HZMB project represents national image and displays national strength.

“We always remind our contractors that the project represents the nation,” noted Zhu Yongling. “As constructors watch TV news reports on the HZMB they are building and tell their families about their contributions to the project, we want them to feel proud. If their enthusiasm and sense of responsibility are engaged, they will definitely do a good job.”

A bird’s-eye view of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. by Duan Wei  

The Chinese people made remarkable achievements through arduous efforts in the five years from 2012 to 2017. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, pointed out in his report to the 19th CPC National Congress: The five years since the 18th National Congress have been a truly remarkable five years in the course of the development of the Party and the country... We have upheld the underlying principle of pursuing progress while ensuring stability, risen to challenges, pioneered and pushed ahead, and made historic achievements in reform, opening up, and socialist modernization.

The five years also witnessed the comprehensive construction of the HZMB. With a systemic philosophy, administrators and builders broke boundaries between different industries and sectors as they developed an innovative design and construction strategy for the bridge. By making major technical breakthroughs, formulating new standards and adjusting industrial structure, they created one record after another in Chinese bridge history.

Contribution and Innovation 

Typically, bridge builders make reinforced concrete structural components on the spot. As a result, the construction sites are usually dirty and noisy. In 2008, after repeated surveys and literature research, the Planning and Contract Department decided to build the HZMB using a method commonly adopted in equipment manufacturing. They built structural components in factories and installed them with machines like building blocks.

“This is a conceptual change—a giant leap forward in our industry,” remarked Zhang Jinwen.

China Railway Shanhaiguan Bridge Industrial Park, which began operation in July 2012, was responsible for building steel box girders. In those days, it was unimaginable to consider transporting colossal box girders with The Chinese people made remarkable achievements through arduous efforts in the five years from 2012 to 2017. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, pointed out in his report to the 19th CPC National Congress: “The five years since the 18th National Congress have been a truly remarkable five years in the course of the development of the Party and the country... We have upheld the underlying principle of pursuing progress while ensuring stability, risen to challenges, pioneered and pushed ahead, and made historic achievements in reform, opening up, and socialist modernization.”The five years also witnessed the comprehensive construction of the HZMB. With a systemic philosophy, administrators and builders broke boundaries between different industries and sectors as they developed an innovative design and construction strategy for the bridge. By making major technical breakthroughs, formulating new standards and adjusting industrial structure, they created one record after another in Chinese bridge history.floating crane vessels atop the sea. Then, China had only a few 1,000-ton or above floating crane vessels, most of which were imported from countries like Japan and South Korea. Ten years earlier when the Hangzhou Bay Bridge was constructed, the country had only one 2,000-ton floating crane vessel. The figure increased to five when the HZMB began construction, all of which were domestically developed. A 12,000-ton floating crane vessel was used in the final closure of the bridge. Innovative ideas and engineering technologies can happen only when a country’s comprehensive national strength substantially improves.

August 4, 2013: A bridge pier under construction. by Wang Liguo

“We make positive attempts to learn from other sectors,” said Zhang Jinwen. “Along with equipment and technological improvements, we also learned Contribution and Innovation30 VOLUME 837FEATURESfrom other industries and projects in terms of management models.”

To reduce and avoid accidents and environment pollution, the petroleum industry created a health, safety and environment (HSE) system. Builders working on the HZMB project learned from the HSE system and optimized it according to the characteristics of cross-sea bridge engineering. They were the first to do so in China.

Compared to other industries, the transportation industry has never stood out for its information management system. Back to 2006, the best information management system was found in the nuclear power industry. To sharpen the edge of the HZMB’s information management system, the project’s Planning and Contract Department sent specialists to conduct a survey at the Ling’ao Nuclear Power Station. They used what they learned to develop the information management system of the HZMB, which in turn gave the transportation industry an overall upgrade.

“This is the evolution from understanding to practice, as well as a way of thinking,”remarked Zhang Jinwen. “It requires a clear understanding of new things and casting off of old mindsets.”

February 3, 2014: Workers install steel reinforcing bars at the CB03 section of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge. The success of the mega-project is attributed to hard work and dedication of more than 20,000 builders. by Ji Shunli

In 2017, China successfully hosted the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing and the 9th BRICS summit in Xiamen, and held the 19th CPC National Congress. 

On the night of December 31 that year, the HZMB was lit up, marking the completion of the bridges power supply and lighting system. This also signaled that the main part of the bridge was ready for operation.

On February 6, 2018, a delivery and acceptance ceremony for the HZMB project was held in Zhuhai. According to quality assessment requirements, the bridge was qualified for operation.  

Glory and Excellence 

Every project administrator and constructor was overcome with pride when the HZMB project was completed. Difficulties in the process of construction tested the courage, wisdom and sense of responsibility of both decision-makers and builders. 

Each “Chinese knot” on the Qinglong navigation channel bridge, part of the HZMB, consists of more than 9,000 sets of highintensity bolts, and its two bridge towers used more than 18,000 sets of high-intensity bolts in total. Before installing the immersed tunnel elements, constructors had to build a foundation with crashed stone 42 meters wide and 1.3 meters deep on a seabed 40 meters under water, with a deviation of no more than four centimeters. Immersed tunnel elements were docked with machines 13 to 44 meters under the sea, and such docking operations had to be performed 34 times. Every engineer or builder was required to use extreme precision.

The complicated project took more than 20,000 builders thousands of days and nights to complete, during which time they made tremendous sacrifices. “Completion of the massive project proves that God helps those who help themselves,” remarked Zhang Jinwen.

Project administrators and builders think deeper about the meaning of the bridge.

“Every time I think about the bridge, many things comes to mind—it not only links pieces of land but also connects the past, present and future and the unknown to the known, and to an even broader world.” added Zhang. “The bridge is more than just a concrete structure; it carries the soul of its constructors. The bridge would have not been completed without such respectful and openminded constructors. In the face of difficulty, one must maintain lofty ideals. Only such a person can understand the symbolic spirit of the bridge. We grew up together with the bridge.” 

“Developed transportation is the foundation of a prosperous country,” said Yu Lie. “The bridge closely links the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao and helps them enhance mutual recognition despite different social systems. The completion of the HZMB is a milestone in the long river of history. It symbolizes the revival of the nation.”

 In February 2018, the main stretch of the HZMB project passed the quality inspection and was delivered. Afterwards, the primary task of the HZMB Authority shifted to operation of the bridge. So far, research on policies concerning vehicle management, driver qualification, insurance, tolls and customs clearance have been completed, and the relevant policies are rolling out quickly. Bridge management and maintenance equipment has been installed. Even before the bridge began operation, the HZMB Authority had planned to use artificial intelligence technology in daily operation. 

Construction of the HZMB was a cooperative process between three regions seeking cooperation and shared benefits through joint contributions. The wisdom, openmindedness, knowledge and vision of administrators, as well as prosperity and strength of the nation, have laid a solid foundation for the completion of the great mission. 

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge is lit up. After it begins operation, the bridge will adopt customs clearance and inspection by each of the three regions, with Macao and Zhuhai jointly conducting the inspection to enhance efficiency. by Chen Xianyao

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