The US$20 billion Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge has earned only 4.3% of its operating costs since it was inaugurated two years ago, just enough to pay the salaries of its employees.
The average daily volume of vehicles and passengers has never matched the lowest forecast laid out in a feasibility study for the bridge in 2008, an Apple Daily investigation reveals.
The bridge took in only 95.6 million yuan (US$14.3 million) in toll fees over the past year, according to data from the authority set up to manage the massive infrastructure project. However, the authority estimated in 2017 it would cost 2.2 billion yuan a year to run the bridge.
The world’s longest sea bridge was inaugurated on Oct. 24, 2018 by President Xi Jinping. The bridge, which connects Hong Kong, Macao and the mainland Chinese special economic zone Zhuhai, is a symbolic piece of infrastructure that signifies the integration of the Pearl River Delta for the future development of the Greater Bay Area in China’s national blueprint.
A 2008 government feasibility study estimated that an average of 9,200 to 14,000 vehicles would be passing over the bridge every day. It also estimated that the bridge could facilitate an average of 55,850 to 69,200 people crossing the borders per day.
But the volume of traffic recorded over the past two years was much lower than expected. With daily volumes of 2,963 vehicles crossing the bridge — less than half of the lower estimate in the feasibility study. Between 81 and 74,227 people a day have used the bridge over the past two years, with the number never meeting the lower estimate since last August.
An agreement signed by the three governments in 2010 stated that when income generated was not enough to repay the loan, interest and operations, the signatories will need to explore new ways to fund the bridge, including a new round of loans from financial institutions or a fees adjustment. But as of now, no such plans have been unveiled.
In response to Apple Daily’s inquiry, the Transport Department said that the bridge’s main entrance is located within mainland waters and the toll fees are not taken by the Hong Kong government. The agreement signed by the three governments bars them from disclosing any information on income and expenditure concerning the bridge, a department spokesperson said.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to partial border closure and downsizing of traffic, the department said, adding that the three governments will explore new proposals to improve the usage rate of the bridge.
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