Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Ultimate "Bridge to Nowhere": China's Jiaozhou Bay Bridge

Today's been a relatively quiet day at work (thus far), which means I am able to do things like read news and blog about them. One of the items I came across is the announcement that the longest sea bridge in the world has become operational. The said bridge is the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge, which connects the city of Qingdao to Huangdao District in southeast China. It spans about 26 miles (the length of a marathon) and took four years to complete.

The first that comes to mind is probably "cool!" or "wow, the Chinese can really build!". These exclamations are warranted by the immense size and scope of the project. The Jiaozhou Bay Bridge took four years to construct, employed around 10,000 construction personnel, and took about 450,000 tons of steel and 2.3 cubic meters of concrete (translated into 5,000 supporting pillars). The cost of the bridge is equally staggering -- at least in Chinese terms. At the time when the U.S. media is stirring anger at the new San Francisco bridge being built in China and then assembled in the U.S. in order to save $400 million, this bridge is estimated to have cost $1 billion to build. The estimated price of the new San Francisco Bay Bridge? $7.2 billion. Although both are enormous sums of money, one is a much greater waste than the other. Can you guess which one?

The answer will probably surprise you. I'd say the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is a bigger waste of money than the new San Francisco Bay Bridge. While the numbers are significantly different, the former spans connects a sizable city, the latter connects a metropolis together. In addition, the San Francisco version represents the revision of an American landmark; the Jiaozhou Bay Bridge is built somewhere with much less renown. Sure, most Chinese people know Qingdao as a tourist attraction, but how many foreigners know of the place? Perhaps the bridge will bring greater renown to the city of Qingdao -- but I think the spending is mostly unwarranted.

If anything, it represents another fascination by the Chinese (spurred by the government) to break world records with their creation. There is nothing wrong with wanting to break records but, when public money is being spent, one must be reasonable and not waste. This is probably a huge waste of public money, money that could have been spent for much greater purposes like building parks and improving living standards in the region. Instead, it is spending on this colossal heap of steel and concrete that most residents will not be able to afford to travel upon (I assume tolls will be very high). A good comparison is the infamous "bridges to nowhere" that were built in remote regions like Alaska. These bridges hold very little value as an unreasonably low number of citizens have a use for it.

Well done, the city of Qingdao. You have just wasted $1 billion. Is is really worth it to "cut commute time in 1/2, from 40 minutes to 20 minutes"?

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