A spectacular fireworks display celebrated the opening of Hong Kong’s Tsing Ma Bridge on April 27, 1997. Pedestrians were invited to walk over the bridge, as is tradition, once former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher officially declared it open. Just under a mile and a half long (2.2 kilometers) and carrying six lanes of traffic on its upper deck and two railways on the lower deck, the Tsing Ma is the world’s longest combined road and rail suspension bridge. It was a key element of an ambitious government initiative to develop Hong Kong’s transit network. The Airport Core Programme, a $20 billion infrastructure project, was timed to conclude just at the moment that Hong Kong reverted back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997insurance, perhaps, that one of the most important financial centers in the world would continue to thrive once under Communist control. Hong Kong, where people come and go and know themselves more impermanent than anywhere else on earth. Beautiful island of many worlds in the arms of the sea. Hong Kong. And China just beyond the hills.

The Tsing Ma was the first land link between Hong Kong and a spectacular new airport designed by Foster + Partners that opened in 1998. The Lantau Link, as the airport connection is called, is formed by two additional bridges, both opened in 1997: the Kap Shui Mun Bridge, a 2,690-foot (820-meter)-long cable-stayed bridge, and the Ma Wan Viaduct, a 1,650-foot (503-meter)-long post-tensioned concrete bridge.


Tsing Ma’s central span is 4,517 feet (1,377 meters) long. Its double deck is suspended from two main cables, each spun from 91 strands of 368 wires each. The cables pass over massive 500-ton (454-tonne) steel saddles at the top of each tower. In an apropos sharing of construction duties, the steelwork for the deck structure was fabricated in Great Britain and Japan and shipped to a riverside assembly yard in Dongguan, China, 50 miles (80 kilometers) from Hong Kong up the Pearl River Delta. A special barge was built to transport the deck sections two at a timeeach is 118 feet (36 meters) longto the bridge site, where they were lifted into their final position by gantries. The high-speed rail line on the lower deck testifies to the span’s aerodynamic stability and precise construction; perfect calibration is a prerequisite for high-speed trains.

To resist the wind, the 656-foot (200-meter) towers were braced with steel trusses encased in concrete to form the permanent portal beams. Construction of the towers was interrupted briefly by typhoons.

Expansion continues. Two major Hong Kong bridges followed the Tsing Ma: the 2007 cable-stayed Shenzhen Bay Bridge, which is 3.4 miles (5.5 kilometers) long, and the 2009 Stonecutters Bridge, which, with a 3,340-foot (1,018-meter) span, is the third longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. The airport, expected to increase the hub’s capacity to 35 million passengers, neared its maximum capacity of 87 million passengers in 2017, abetted no doubt by the convenience afforded by the Tsing Ma.

Few visitors to Hong Kong miss the stomach-churning landings on the narrow runway at the old Kai Tak Airport. Passengers now arrive at a glass palace of an airport and are whisked via the Tsing Ma’s high-speed rail to the city. The bridge, completed shortly before June 30, 1997, when the Union Jack flag was lowered and 156 years of British Colonial rule ended, was a big, if not elegant, signal of the changes that lay ahead for Hong Kong.

The piers are founded in land, except for one foundation located in relatively shallow water off Ma Wan Island. Here, the foundation was constructed by submerging two caissons into a partially constructed artificial island that protects the bridge from ship collisions.

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