Dense population and difficult terrain ensure that improvements to transportation systems are both high on Hong Kong's agenda and difficult to build. Spectacular bridges and long tunnels are familiar sights and more world record breakers are to come.
Hong Kong experienced a massive construction boom in the period leading up to the handover to China. Mammoth road and rail schemes were built in tandem with the development of the new airport at Chek Lap Kok. Rail expansion has continued, with both the territory's rail corporations building new lines.
For roads, the next peak is a few years off, but when it comes it will be big. 'We have earmarked HK$19bn (£1.6bn) in the next five years for highway projects including the construction of new trunk roads as well as improvements to existing bottlenecks,' explained secretary for transport Nicholas Ng, in London for a conference organised by the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office. 'Planning further ahead we are undertaking feasibility studies and design of new road projects worth more than £4.2bn. Together these projects will provide an outer ring of expressways along the western side of Hong Kong Island linking the Kowloon urban areas, the North West New Territories and continuing onto Mainland China.' Schemes are under design for new build and improvements to some 100km of strategic roads.
'It's a civil engineer's paradise,' says Highways Department major works project manager Robert Lloyd. Highlights of the construction programme include what could become the world's longest immersed tube tunnel, a suspension bridge longer than Tsing Ma and the longest cable stayed span ever built.
Major new routes and upgrades are planned right across Hong Kong (see boxes). Other schemes include improvements to Island Eastern Corridor between North Point and Sai Wan Ho. A design and construct contract has been awarded to Maunsell Consultants Asia. The new Tsing Yi North Coastal Road, originally an airport core programme project, is being built by Gammon. And improvements to the Tuen Mun road-Tai Lam section are under construction by Zen Pacific.
For contractors, tendering follows prequalification with the number invited to bid normally around eight. Except in design and build, the lowest price almost always gets the contract, explains Lloyd. In these hard times, 'we are getting very competitive bids'.
Some consultants are putting in very cut-throat prices, discounting by as much as 50%. 'In the past they have always provided the service required, but now it is worrying.' There is a danger that everything the consultant does becomes a claim. Firms are trying to make themselves more efficient, working via the Internet from offices in Shenzhen, Manila and the UK, says Lloyd.