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New infrastructure enhances Macau, Zhuhai access

The new Lotus Bridge, which lies one kilometre from Macau International Airport and joins the SAR with neighbouring Zhuhai, became fully operational in April. The bridge is he second major land link between the cities and its opening formalises the infrastructure developments that were officially inaugurated in December 1999.

The new bridge and highway system links Macau's outer Taipa and Coloane islands via the Lotus and Hengqin Island bridges with the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone and the Mainland highway network. The new link bypasses the downtown areas of both Macau and Zhuhai.

Expected travel time is only 30 minutes between the airport and the Zhuhai-Guangzhou super highway that now boasts a six-lane carriageway along the busy industrial corridor traversing the West Bank of the Pearl River Delta of South China. The new highway cuts as much as 40 minutes off the previous driving time to Guangzhou, which is 130km north of Zhuhai and Macau, making a typical journey between the airport and central Guangzhou less than two hours. Major cities such as Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Panyu and Foshan are also served via this Jingzhu Highway that extends beyond Guangzhou to Beijing.

Midway, a highway connection branches across the Humen Bridge at Nansha to the east side of the Pearl River and intersects the Guangzhou-Shenzhen expressway, adding further highspeed connections to cities such as Taiping, Dongguan and metropolitan Shenzhen, just above Hong Kong.

The 1,780m long Lotus Bridge provides three vehicle lanes in each direction and was built at a cost of Rmb200mn (about US$25mn) shared between the Macau and Zhuhai governments. The bridge is toll-free, but foot passengers will pay a shuttle buss fee of Patacas3 (Macau) or about US$0.40. The COTAI border station on the Macau side has the capacity to handle 50,000 passengers and 20,000 vehicles per day and features a changeover system to convert road traffic from left to right, since Macau is left-hand drive, whereas traffic on the Chinese mainland drives on the right.

There are 28 immigration and 25 customs inspection stations to be staffed by over 100 members of the Macau Security Forces and Marine Police Customs on each shift. Similar arrangements are made at the Mainland border at the Hengqin Port, located immediately adjacent to Macau at the western end of the Lotus Bridge. In each case, there are separate areas for processing passenger cars, buses and goods vehicles.

Six local public bus routes, including three via the airport, will connect points in Macau with the border at COTAI. Foot passengers will be shuttled across the bridge by bus. Regular bus and taxi services will also run between the Hengqin Port immigration and customs border and downtown Zhuhai, as well as to points in nearby Guangdong Province.

In the initial months, the bridge will be open everyday from 9 am to 5 pm for individuals, private vehicles and tour buses, and from 7 am to 5 pm for trucks. Operating hours will be reviewed once the traffic volume has been gauged.

The new Lotus Bridge will supplement the existing Portas de Cerco border in north Macau adjacent to Gongbei Township. This Zhuhai border was upgraded last October with the opening of a new 190,000sqm immigration and Customs pavilion. Macau's principal border with the Mainland sees about half-million people crossing each month, rising to almost a million at peak holiday times. The flow of people and goods has been rising strongly, with an annual increase of 127% recorded by Mainlanders entering Macau last year alone.

The Macau International Airport opened in November 1995. It supports the operations of 12 regular airlines with 464 weekly flights to 27 destinations, 15 of which are on the Mainland. In February, the airport handled 8.6mn passengers, 197,000 tonnes of cargo and 86,000 flight movements.