Bridge openness best cure for fear

Editorial | Mary Ma Apr 10, 2018
The mega Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is due to open in two months, and any safety concerns - like the one caused by an aerial photo showing dolosse randomly located at one end of an artificial island - must be taken seriously to assure a worried public.

Yesterday, Director of Highways Daniel Chung Kum-wah backed Beijing's view the dolosse haven't drifted and their random locations are part of the design.

Chief engineer Raymond Kong Tai-wing took it further, saying although the reinforced concrete blocks of a complex geometric shape that are installed to absorb the impact of waves appear to be randomly placed, they actually aren't because their positions are carefully planned.

Their accounts are probably the most authoritative explanations offered up to now. But are they assuring?

It certainly isn't something that lay people can answer readily, for they can only rely on the integrity of professionals in matters so scientific. Unless new evidence surfaces to cast doubt on the situation, there's no reason why Chung and Kong shouldn't be trusted.

Kong said the dolosse's design is so strong they can withstand the impact of the highest tide and strongest waves seen only once every 300 years. I hope he's right since safety is always of the uppermost concern for everybody.

Officials - including some from the mainland - condemned critics for making an issue of it. These condemnations are unwarranted. Quite to the contrary, they should be glad people care enough to voice their concerns.

They should understand there's no way for the public to comprehend the science of the project. However, people should be encouraged to speak out if they fear they've discovered something unusual that may have safety implications.

Then, it's the bureaucrats' responsibility to explain the situation and assuage the fears.

Officials should know what the public worry about most is a cover-up - especially when many locals still don't have full confidence in the mainland's quality control. Remember the contaminated milk scare and "tofu" structures collapsing in earthquakes, killing scores of innocent schoolchildren?

It's all about perception. The public may be wrong, but perception can only be addressed by full disclosure.

Yu Lie, deputy director of the mainland authority managing the multibillion-dollar bridge, offered similar explanations a day ago, when he met with his Hong Kong counterparts in Zhuhai. That was certainly the correct step to take.

But Yu's countering that the mainland has its own way of doing things was unnecessary, as this would only raise more eyebrows. In the world of engineering, there's only one way of doing things, which is scientifically. Physics - not ideological doctrines - must be the only cardinal principle.

The authority should consider releasing more information, including the technical data for viewing by experts, if the press conference by the highways officials stopped short of clearing all the doubts about the bridge. Officials should accept that if flaws exist, it's never too late to rectify them.

Openness is the key to ensuring confidence.

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January 2019