Tsing Ma Bridge, Hong Kong

Year:1997

Duration:5 years

Cost:£647m (£1bn today)

Country: Hong Kong

What did this project achieve?

Build a crossing between central Hong Kong and Chek Lap Kok Airport

Tsing Ma Bridge is a bridge in Hong Kong. It’s part of the Lantau Link, a road and rail scheme built to connect Lantau – Hong Kong’s biggest island – to the airport at Chek Lap Kok, also known as Hong Kong International Airport.

The 2.2km-long structure was the second longest suspension bridge in the world when it opened in 1997. It’s currently the eleventh-longest. The 41m-wide bridge has two decks and carries road and rail traffic.

The upper deck of the bridge carries six lanes of road traffic - three going in each direction. The lower level has two rail lines and two sheltered carriageways. The carriageways are mainly used for maintenance.

The structure has a main span of 1,377m and is 206m high. It has the longest span in the world of any bridge carrying rail traffic.

The bridge is named after two of the islands at each end – Tsing Yi and Ma Wan.

The crossing was inaugurated by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - by then Lady Thatcher - on 27 April 1997. Security for the ceremony was extremely tight as the ex-premier was still considered a likely terrorist target.

Difference the project has made

Before the crossing opened, Lantau Island could only be reached by ferry. Now the channel can be crossed by road or rail in a matter of minutes.

The scheme connected the main urban centre of Hong Kong to the city-state’s new airport of Chek Lap Kok. The road and rail link supports one of south east Asia’s busiest hubs for business and tourist travel.

The Tsing Ma Bridge has boosted tourism in the area. It has a visitors’ centre and viewing platform to take in the sights near the structure.

How the work was done

The Tsing Ma bridge was designed by consulting engineers Mott MacDonald. As well as having to cope with heavy loads, the structure had to withstand Hong Kong’s seasonal storms and typhoons.

Designers at Mott MacDonald took inspiration from the 2,467m Forth railway bridge in Scotland and the motorway suspension Severn Bridge between England and Wales.

Engineers built two support towers for the structure. One is on Wok Tai Wan, a bay on Tsing Yi Island. The other is on a man-made island off the coast of Ma Wan. Both towers are 206m above sea level and founded on bedrock.

The support towers are two-legged. Project workers used high-strength concrete to construct the legs.

The bridge is kept upright by cables anchored in large concrete structures on either side of the crossing. Engineers used 200,000 tonnes of concrete for the Tsing Yi anchorage and 250,000 tonnes for the Ma Wan side.

Engineers built rock seawalls at the base of each bridge tower. The safety structures can stop a 220,000 tonne ship moving at 8 knots (14.8km/hr).

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Massively imposing by day and a twinkling span of lights by night, the Tsing Ma Bridge is an engineering marvel.

discoverhongkong.com

Hong Kong tourist board website

Fascinating facts

In June 2017, the South China Morning Post reported that the Tsing Ma Bridge was 8.1m higher than its official height of 62.1m from base to road span. The paper cited a technical report it had seen, drawn up in November 2016.

If the report is correct, the safe height of the bridge should be 68.2m (allowing for a 2m margin of error) not the 53m on charts used by shipping lines.

A safe height of 68.2m would mean some of the biggest mega container ships in service are currently banned from the harbour unnecessarily – the ‘new’ clearance means they could pass under the structure. Business leaders fear Hong Kong is losing out on potential trade profits as a result.

People who made it happen

  • Client: Hong Kong department of highways
  • Consulting engineers: Mott MacDonald
  • Construction engineers: a consortium of Costain, Mitsui and Trafalgar House

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