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February 11, 2010

Construction Corner | Korky Koroluk

China steams ahead with megaprojects

Big engineering projects are sure to catch people’s attention because of both size and complexity. Immense dams are thrown up across mountain gorges, islands are built, then airports built on them.

The scale can be breathtaking. Concept to completion can take four, six, eight, 10 or more years.

And nowhere are there more such projects being planned or under way than in China.

China’s economy has grown by leaps and bounds — up 9.6 per cent in 2008, while the rest of the world foundered; up another eight per cent in 2009 while the rest of the world continued to worry about economic recovery. Early this year, the Chinese economy will overtake Japan’s, becoming the world’s second largest. Of course, in achieving that status, it has also replaced the United States as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

All this has happened because, while China’s market has slowly become more open to foreign participation, its government has remained resolutely closed. That means decisions can be made without concern for external opposition, while internal opposition is simply crushed.

Construction Corner

Korky Koroluk

So for all the environmental damage that its economic development is doing, that closed government can still set priorities that involve the huge engineering projects that make you catch your breath.

Near Hong Kong, the mountainous tops of two small islands were knocked off, crushed and used to fill the channel between the islands. The result was a large enough piece of flat land to build a huge new international airport.

The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River has displaced 1.3 million people so far, with more to be forced out as the water level rises.

There are plans to move water from the south to the parched north through a canal system that will, in places, be elevated — like an unimaginably immense modern version of the old Roman aquaducts.

And, recently, building work has been started on a 49-kilometre Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge that will, when finished six years from now, link the country’s southern economic hub of Guangdong province to Hong Kong and Macau. The project is mind-boggling both in size and complexity, and may be one of the most technically complicated transportation projects anywhere.

The project will cost 73 billion yuan, which works out to about $11.4 billion in Canadian currency. The bridge will be a six-lane expressway able to withstand earthquakes of up to magnitude 8.0, and the impact of a 300,000-tonne vessel.

Each of the bridge’s piers will soar 165 metres.

Although it is being called a bridge, the word “crossing” might be more apt. One section of it will tunnel under the sea because a nearby airport would make tall piers impossible.

And to facilitate construction, two islands will be built.

Arup Group, the British-based engineering giant, is doing the design work for the project, and its environmental impact has been one of the company’s concerns.

The waters around the Pearl River Delta are home to 2,000 remaining white dolphins, so a large preserve has been created in the hope that they will be able to live there undisturbed.

An Arup spokesman said the firm wants “to make sure we don’t impact the water flow.

“We also wanted to ensure that the form of the construction doesn’t pollute the water.”

The vast manufacturing towns in the Pearl River Delta have been the drivers for much of China’s economic growth in the last three decades, so effective transportation links are critical.

Completion of the bridge (with its 100 km/h speed limit on vehicles) will mean travelling between Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macau, which takes three or four hours now, will be reduced to about half an hour.

Korky Koroluk is an Ottawa-based freelance writer. Send comments to editor@dailycommercialnews.com

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