For once it was not just Lantau people fretting about our transport problems. This past weekend we had not one but two accidents which threw the spotlight on Lantau and our fragile connections to the world. Plus one excellent irony – of that more later.
The Sunday evening accident, where a returning Macau hydrofoil struck an object off the Sokos, was lucky not to involve any life-threatening injuries. Reportedly the object was a marine fender tyre. For anyone who has strolled the garbage-strewn Fan Lau beach nearby that’s no surprise.
As a sailing master told the SCMP, such accidents are probably unavoidable in Hong Kong’s less than pristine waters. It won’t get any better off Lantau’s coast when the Environment Dept starts shipping 12,000 tonnes of household waste in and out of Shek Kwu Chau daily, but hey, let’s not see that as a negative.
The drama on the Kap Shui Mun Bridge on Friday night was more of an outlier, the first since the bridge opened in 1997. The Transport Department probably had little choice but to shut it down to inspect the damage, but it seems fair to wonder if more sophisticated sensors aren’t available that will more precisely capture the impact of the collision.
The government claims fewer than 100 people missed their flights. It seems questionably low given that virtually all of the airport transfers rely on Kap Shui Mun (excepting the South Lantau people searching for a cab). On the other hand, my neighbour, who worked in an airline lounge, wasn’t even aware of the accident until I told her, so maybe the ferries did the job.
Besides the usual fingerpointing, the incident also prompted some lively discussion about the limited points of access to Lantau. Welcome to our world.
Keen readers of this blog know that the Tuen Mun bypass, due to open in 2018, will provide precisely that alternative. It is a part of the Macau bridge boondoggle but is not reliant on either the continually-delayed bridge or the artificial island landing zone that is slowly sinking into Tung Chung Bay, i.e., we know it is going to be finished one day.
For all that, I don’t recall anyone making the argument that it was intended as an alternative to the Tsing Ma bridge. Even the official website claims no more than that the euphonically-named Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link (TM-CLKL) will relieve congestion on the existing freeway. That said, let’s cheer that at last a reason has been found for building it.
Some may think HK$47 billion is a little steep for a once-in-18 years backup, but C.Y. Leung is not one of them. He’s used the incident as a pretext to castigate the activists (the Civic Party apparently) for the judicial review which delayed the start of the Macau bridge for 12 months way back in 2010-2011. As the Civic Party points out, that delay was irrelevant to the building of the Tuen Mun bypass, which is on a separate budget and timetable.
Here’s the irony though – the barge that smacked into the bridge on Friday night was carrying gear from the Macau bridge site. To be precise, it was a broken crane on the barge that struck the lower part of the Shek Mun Kiu deck. How about that? It does occasion a sense that we are in an infinite loop of white elephant mishaps creating crises that can only be solved by further boondoggles. But that sounds like 21st century Hong Kong.