We're on a road to nowhere, come on inside Taking that ride to nowhere, we'll take that ride Feeling okay this morning, and you know We're on a road to paradise, here we go, here we go
From the song Road To Nowhere, by the Talking Heads
I could not resist asking co-blogger Steve Dickinson to write of his trip last weekend over China’s newest engineering marvel: Qingdao’s new Jiazhou Bay Bridge. Here goes.
By Steve Dickinson
The opening of the bridge across the Jiaozhou Bay was achieved in Qingdao on July 1, just in time for the 90th Anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.
At 41.58 km, this bridge is the longest ocean span bridge in the world. On the same day, the undersea tunnel from Qingdao to Huangdao opened. At 9.47 kilometers, this is the longest undersea tunnel in China. Qingdao is rightly proud of these engineering achievements. See the China Daily for a report.
The completion of the bridge and tunnel fulfills the long term dream of the Qingdao government to fully integrate the two shores of the Jiaozhou Bay. Qingdao has long been troubled by the fact that modern development is centered on the Huangdao side of the bay while government and banking is centered on the Qingdao side.
In honor of the opening, I took a trip with a local group last Saturday. The trip suggests that more work needs to be done to achieve the full potential of the bridge and tunnel. Here are some of my observations:
1. There is already a high speed highway that rings the Jiaozhou Bay. The bridge is built across the very widest part of the bay, quite close to the shoreline. It runs pretty much parallel to an existing highway. As a result, local reports have indicated that the bridge will reduce the travel time by only ten minutes. Locals wonder why $US2.3 billion was spent for a ten minute reduction in travel time.
2. I took the bridge from Qingdao to the Qingdao container port in Huangdao. Normally, this trip takes about 1.5 hours. The trip across the bridge was smooth. However, upon exiting the bridge, we were confronted with a massive line at the toll booth. Three lanes of bridge traffic dumped into three toll booths. On most bridges of this size, one would expect six to eight toll booths. The resulting back up at the toll booth caused a three hour delay. As a result, our 1.5 hour trip turned into a hellish 4.5 hour trip. There is no indication that this issue will be resolved, since there seems to be no room to build additional toll booths at the exit area. I see this as another instance of China doing well with “hard engineering” but neglecting the soft stuff like the user’s overall experience.
3. Private vehicles must pay a 50RMB (~USD$8) toll for the bridge and 30RMB (~USD$5) for the tunnel. The toll for our bus was 90 RMB for the bridge and 100 RMB for the tunnel. These fees are quite high. Considering that in the best of circumstances only 10 minutes is saved in using the bridge, locals have indicated that they do not plan to use the bridge for normal transportation purposes.
4. We took the new tunnel to return home from the port. The experience was quite different. We were greeted by eight toll booths at the mouth of the tunnel and there was only a five minute delay in entering the tunnel. The tunnel is quite modern and was a pleasure to use. However, the tunnel connects the beach portion of Huangdao with the downtown area of Qingdao. It is therefore not really useful for cargo transport needs. Locals also indicate the the high toll will discourage private car use. It is anticipated that the main use will be for bus traffic across the bay. The big problem with the tunnel is that it links to slow local roads, so this route took us three hours.
Nobody is even sure why either the bridge and the tunnel were built, much less the two of them. The bridge seems to be mostly aimed at connection by highway for goods from the ports and airport and tradezones. The tunnel does not provide access to any of this. The high toll for the tunnel means that it will not be used for normal surface transport (private cars and taxis). So why was it built? No one has ever been able to provide me with an explanation. Why was the bridge built at the WIDEST part of the bay? Why was it built when it only provides a 10 minute improvement in travel time? Why was it built with no attention to access and exit? Why were the connecting highways not improved? Who knows
It appears that these two massive projects are typical of so much of the infrastructure being built in China. Liittle attention was paid to the human element in actually putting the infrastructure to work. Our group of 40 was disappointed that our outing was ruined by the long delay on the bridge. However, I have to say that no one was surprised.