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World's Longest Sea Bridge Opens in E China

China inaugurated the world's longest cross-sea bridge on Thursday as part of its effort to boost economic integration and development in the Yangtze River Delta.

Hundreds of people attended the opening ceremony for the 36-kilometer bridge spanning Hangzhou Bay near Shanghai on Thursday afternoon. It was held in the middle of the bridge.

Zhao Hongzhu, secretary of the Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, declared the opening of the bridge at 3:40 PM, followed by ceremonial fireworks.

Tens of thousands of local residents gathered on both banks of the bay, many of whom performed dragon dances in traditional costume to celebrate the span's opening.

The bridge opened to traffic on a trial basis at 11:58 PM on Thursday, with at least 2,000 vehicles queuing for the passage at midnight.

"Most of the people came to visit the world's longest sea bridge. More visitors are expected to come in the morning," said a traffic policeman on the bridge.

Dong Heping, 37, a logistics company businessman in Cixi City of Zhejiang, was the first driver to step onto the bridge. He received a driving guide from a clerk at the toll station.

"My wife and I have been waiting for the opening since 8 a.m. on Thursday," Dong said, "We are really excited to be the first travelers on this world's longest sea bridge."

Trucks, overloaded vehicles and vehicles that carry dangerous chemicals will be barred from passing through the bridge during the trial operation period in a bid to ensure smooth traffic and visitor safety.

"We haven't decided how long the trial operation period will last. That depends ... on the bridge condition, and we need time to improve management of its operation," said Jin Jianming, deputy chief commander of the bridge construction project.

'Made-in-China' bridge

The bridge has been hailed as a "Made-in-China" model in large infrastructure construction that fully uses homegrown technologies and demonstrates the country's architectural expertise.

Wang Yong, head of the bridge project, said the design had led to more than 250 technological innovations and engineering breakthroughs.

The project survived 19 severe challenges, including typhoons, sea tides and geological problems, during construction, he said.

Jin added the complicated climate conditions in Hangzhou Bay made the construction one of the most difficult in the world.

"That is the biggest difference from the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge in southern United States."

He was referring to the 38.4-km bridge across Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, considered the world's longest water-spanning structure.

The cross-sea bridge in China links Haiyan, Jiaxing City, with Cixi, Ningbo City in Zhejiang Province.

It will cut the length of the road trip from Shanghai to Ningbo, a busy port, by 120 km. It is designed to last 100 years.

The bridge, with a 32-km section spanning the sea, is a cable-stayed structure built at a cost of 11.8 billion yuan (US$1.69 billion).

Private investors funded almost 30 percent of the project, the first time China's private sector had invested in a major public infrastructure project in the country.

Construction of the six-lane bridge, which will allow a maximum speed of 100 km per hour, started on November 14, 2003 and was completed on June 26, 2007.

A waste water disposal plant with a daily capacity of 270,000 tons has been built near the bridge in Jiaxing to collect and treat waste water from neighboring areas.

"Taking environmental protection into account, the top priority for us is to prevent the Hangzhou Bay water from being polluted," said Qiu Dongyao, Jiaxing executive vice mayor.

Great changes expected

As a shortcut between Zhejiang and Shanghai, the bridge is expected to greatly alleviate traffic flow in the booming Shanghai-Hangzhou-Ningbo triangle.

"It's predicted the transportation costs will be reduced by 40 billion to 50 billion yuan in the coming 10 years for Zhejiang," said Huang Renwei, Shanghai Municipal Academy of Social Sciences deputy head.

"In addition, another 55 billion to 60 billion yuan will be saved because of the reduction in fuel use," he said.

The bridge is also expected to help boost economic integration and development in the Yangtze River Delta, which covers almost 100,000 square kilometers of land comprising Shanghai, Zhejiang and Jiangsu. It is home to 72.4 million people.

"I think it will be easier for our company to recruit high-caliber employees in the future, who always prefer working in small cities like Cixi but living in big cities like Shanghai," said Sun Ningwei, vice president of the Xinhai Electric Co. Ltd. based in Cixi, Ningbo.

"They can leave Shanghai for Cixi in the morning and go back in the afternoon. It's only about 1.5 hours' drive," she said.

Sun Bingdui, a resident from Cixi's Tian'an Village located near the bridge, anticipated a better life after its opening.

"There used to be a desolate beach near our village. Later many factories were built there due to the bridge," he recalled. "I opened a seafood restaurant a few years ago, drawing many nearby factory workers."

"I was one of the poorest in the village in the past. Now, I'm one of the richest," he said.

(Xinhua News Agency May 2, 2008)

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