Monday, June 12, 2017

Less than a third of the 65 Chinese highway & rail projects examined were “genuinely economically productive.”

China’s New Bridges: Rising High, but Buried in Debt. By Chris Buckley
TNYT, Jun 10 2017
China has built hundreds of dazzling new bridges, including the longest and highest, but many have fostered debt and corruption.

“The amount of high bridge construction in China is just insane,” said Eric Sakowski, an American bridge enthusiast who runs a website on the world’s highest bridges. “China’s opening, say, 50 high bridges a year, and the whole of the rest of the world combined might be opening 10.”

Of the world’s 100 highest bridges, 81 are in China, including some unfinished ones, according to Mr. Sakowski’s data. (The Chishi Bridge ranks 162nd.)

China also has the world’s longest bridge, the 102-mile Danyang-Kunshan Grand Bridge, a high-speed rail viaduct running parallel to the Yangtze River, and is nearing completion of the world’s longest sea bridge, a 14-mile cable-stay bridge skimming across the Pearl River Delta, part of a 22-mile bridge and tunnel crossing that connects Hong Kong and Macau with mainland China.

The country’s expressway growth has been compared to that of the United States in the 1950s, when the Interstate System of highways got underway, but China is building at a remarkable clip. In 2016 alone, China added 26,100 bridges on roads, including 363 “extra large” ones with an average length of about a mile, government figures show.


A study that Mr. Ansar helped write [] said fewer than a third of the 65 Chinese highway and rail projects he examined were “genuinely economically productive,” while the rest contributed more to debt than to transportation needs. [...]

In the country that built the Great Wall, major feats of infrastructure have long been a point of pride. China has produced engineering coups like the world’s highest railway, from Qinghai Province to Lhasa, Tibet; the world’s largest hydropower project, the Three Gorges Dam; and an 800-mile canal from the Yangtze River system to Beijing that is part of the world’s biggest water transfer project.
Leaders defend the infrastructure spree as crucial to China’s development.

“It’s very important to improve transport and other infrastructure so that impoverished regions can escape poverty and prosper,” President Xi Jinping said while visiting the spectacular, recently opened Aizhai Bridge in Hunan in 2013. “We must do more of this and keep supporting it.”

Indeed, the new roads and railways have proved popular, especially in wealthier areas with many businesses and heavy commuter traffic. And even empty infrastructure often has a way of eventually filling up, as early critics of the country’s high-speed rail and the Pudong skyscrapers in Shanghai have discovered.

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