The $20 billion 'umbilical cord': China unveils the world's longest sea-crossing bridge

Updated 4:58 AM ET, Wed May 16, 2018

Story highlights

  • The $20 billion Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is the world's longest sea-crossing bridge.
  • The bridge is a central plank in China's ambitious plans to develop the Greater Bay Area.
  • Although the bridge is an engineering marvel, its construction has been dogged by controversy.

(CNN)As we drive down the eerily deserted Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, the murky waters of the Pearl River Delta stretch as far as the eye can see. There is no land in sight.

Spanning 34 miles (55 kilometers), this is the longest sea-crossing bridge ever built. Gao Xinglin, assistant director and senior engineer at the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority, meets us half way along. As we are buffeted by a strong wind, the tough conditions his construction crew experienced, as they perched on precarious platforms, working miles from land and high over the water, are evident.
Gao is visibly proud of his country's monumental achievement.
Due to open to the public this summer, this long snake of bitumen will connect a relatively small city on the Chinese mainland with the two Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
But since the bridge was first suggested in 2003, it has stirred controversy. This massive span of concrete and steel is not just proof of China's ability to build record-setting megastructures -- it's also a potent symbol of the country's growing geopolitical ambitions.
As tensions simmer between the mainland and Hong Kong and Taiwan, and China continues to claim territory in the South China Sea, the bridge can be seen as a physical manifestation of the Chinese leadership's determination to exert its regional influence. Critics have also questioned the environmental and human toll and the immense financial cost of the project.

China's Greater Bay Area