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China Plans to Build World's Longest Cable-Stayed Bridge
Nantong, a city in east China's Jiangsu Province in the Yangtze River estuary, is expected to begin work within the year on a twin-tower, cable-stayed bridge with a central span of 1,088 meters (1,190 yards) that will overtake Japan's Tatara Ohashi Bridge (890 meters or 973 yards) as the world’s longest cable-stayed bridge. It will be an all-China project -- no international participation has been invited in the construction of the Sutong Bridge.

“The Sutong Bridge will be the world’s longest stayed-cable bridge, something that neither Chinese nor foreigners have yet built,” said Qu Yongguo, chief of the foreign economic cooperation section of the Nantong Municipal Development Planning Commission. “With the current available technologies in the world, if we can’t build the bridge -- neither can they (foreign bridge contractors). So rather than let foreign firms build it, it’s better to let the building be done by Chinese people themselves.”

Contractors will be selected from the elite contingents who took part in the constructions of Runyang Bridge and No. 2 Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, Qu Yongguo said.

Officials from the city's planning commission recently shared with the public a blueprint of the bridge that gives people the impression of a bridge that will fly through the air to transform a chasm into a thoroughfare. According to the plan, total investment will be around 6 billion yuan (US$725.77 million), with registered funds standing at 2.2 billion yuan (US$266.12 million), accounting for 35 percent of the total. This will be collected by the local governments of Jiangsu Province (60 percent), Suzhou City and Nantong City (20 percent each). The communications bureau of Jiangsu Province plans to start construction at the end of this year and complete the project within five years.

The site of Sutong Bridge is located between an area of Nantong farmland and Xuliujing of Suzhou City, according to Jiang Zhixue, director of the Nantong's municipal development planning commission. The bridge will be about 280 km (173.98 miles) west of Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province, 90 km (55.92 miles) to the Yangtze River Bridge in Jiangyin, and 100 km east of the estuary of the Yangtze River. In the north, the bridge will join the soon-to-be-constructed Nantong-Qidong section of the Ningbo-Qidong Expressway as well as other coastal expressways; in the south, it will link up with the Shanghai-Ningbo Expressway, the Suzhou-Jiaxing-Hangzhou Expressway, now under construction, and highways along the Yangtze River.

The full length of the bridge is 7,600 meters (8,311.46 yards) while the central span of 1,088 meters (1,189.85 yards) will have a height of 62 meters (67.8 yards), enabling fourth and fifth generation container ships to pass through in all weather. The bridge and the bridge approaches are designed on six-lane expressway standards, with a maximum vehicle speed of 100 km (62.14 miles) per hour (120 km per hour on the highway). The length of cable used will total 32.2 km (20 miles). After completion, the bridge's central span will not only exceed that of Japan's Tatara Ohashi Bridge by 198 meters (216.54 yards), but also Hong Kong's Angchuanzhou Bridge, now under design, by 70 meters (76.55 yards). Hence, it should remain the world's largest stayed-cable bridge for a considerable period of time.

There are tens of bridges over the Yangtze River already. Jiangsu Province alone has four bridges across the Yangtze River (two in Nanjing, one in Jiangyin and one in Runyang) and will soon start the construction of a third bridge in Nanjing. Is it necessary to build such a bridge over the mouth of the Yangtze River? Qu Yongguo, chief of the foreign economic cooperation section of the Nantong Municipal Development Planning Commission, answered firmly: It’s all too necessary.

According to Qu Yongguo, four vehicle ferries designed to handle 13,000 vehicles a day now provide traffic services across the Yangtze River within the jurisdiction of Nantong. But the actual traffic flow reaches 14,000 vehicles a day at the peak hours. A vehicle has to wait some one hour before getting on a ferry that takes some 45 minutes to cross the river. In addition, the changeable climate at the mouth of the Yangtze River greatly affects the voyage. Ferry boats have to stop operations for 10-15 days a year because of heavy winds and fog. This has adversely affected the economic development and the communications between the north and the south of the Yangtze River.

At present, the traffic load across the Jiangsu section of the Yangtze is growing at an annual rate of 15 percent while the figure for Nantong is over 20 percent. It’s estimated that the vehicles (cars) crossing Nantong river section per day will amount to 41,432 in the year 2005, grow to 70,624 by the year 2014 and reach 89,556 cars a day in 2025. This is much more than the ferries can handle. So, it’s a crying need to build a road bridge to alleviate transportation pressure and lessen the hidden perils in traffic safety.

It’s said a port area consisting of Nanjing, Zhenjiang, Zhangjiagang and Nantong has taken shape on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, with 2,500 ships passing Nantong stretch of the river each day. With Shanghai developing into an international shipping center and the mouth of the Yangtze River being dredged, the navigation density at the mouth of the Yangtze River will continue increasing. On the other hand, some 30 ferryboats at the four ferries of Nantong make every day about 550 trips across the main channels, constituting an obstacle to the navigation along the Yangtze River. Qu Yongguo told reporters that accidents beyond the “normal” standard from 1997 to 2000 amounted to 110, causing 93 deaths, 115 ships sunk and direct economic losses of some 100 million yuan (US$12.08 million). In 1987, the Yangtze River witnessed the worst collision between a ferryboat and a barge, causing 114 deaths.

The section of the Yangtze River from Nanjing to its mouth stretches for some 380 km (236.13 miles). Three bridges have already been built and one more is to be built over the section of 190 km (118.07 miles) from Nanjing to Jiangyin. However, no bridge is available on the remaining section of 190 km (118.07 miles) from Jiangyin to river mouth.

Located in east Jiangsu, the Sutong Bridge is a cross-river section of one of the four north-south highways of the province, linking Shanghai in the east and Suzhou-Wuxi-Changzhou area in the west. It helps shorten the distance between north part of Jiangsu and Shanghai so as to help north Jiangsu to better take advantage of the rapid development of Shanghai.

Suzhou and Nantong were pretty much at the same level in terms of economic strength in the late 1970s. But as the economic reach of Shanghai as a central city has increased gradually with the reform and open policy, the economy in southern Jiangsu Province has developed quickly, while northern Jiangsu, separated by the Yangtze River, lags behind. The per capita GDP of Nantong in 1990 was half of Suzhou. In 2000, the per capita GDP of Nantong is 9,500 yuan (US$1,147.34), less than one-third of Suzhou’s 30,000 yuan (US$ 3,623.19). The gap became wider.

A municipal government official of Nantong believes that the planned bridge will help connect the northern part of Jiangsu with the eastern coast area and Shanghai to improve the investment environment to boost local economy.

Qu Yongguo described the situation as follows: China’s east coastal area will have a golden thoroughfare stretching from Heilongjiang Province in the north to Sanya, Hainan Province passing through Beijing, Tianjing, Tanggu, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong. Along this coastal expressway, five bridges across Qiongzhou Strait, Lingdingyang River, Hangzhou Gulf, Yangtze River and Bohai Sea Gulf will be built. Because the Sutong Bridge is close to the sea, it can connect with the coastal expressway belt more closely than other bridges crossing the Yangtze River. On this point, the Sutong Bridge can’t be replaced as a transportation hub. The soybeans of Heilongjiang and coconuts of Hainan will be transported through Sutong Bridge, and the speed of logistical distribution will accelerate.

A reporter interviewed several local residents in Nantong at random. Mr. Zhang working in the Nantong Motoring Group said he was happy about the bridge construction particularly because of direct bus routes between Nantong and Shanghai, and Nantong and Suzhou will increase, which means more economic profits and employment opportunities after the construction of Sutong Bridge. Chen Peng, manager of a private enterprise involved in machine processing, said he will expand his business to target the boundless commercial opportunities offered in southern Jiangsu. Also the farmers of six rural counties of Nantong are happy about the construction of Sutong Bridge. Farmers engaged in shed vegetable planting and raising chickens in Hai’an County said that the Sutong Bridge will shorten the transportation period of the fresh vegetables and eggs from Nantong to Shanghai.

Qu Yongguo told the reporter that the early stage of research on Sutong Bridge began in 1986. The communications department of Jiangsu Province and the Nantong municipal government jointly prepared a “feasibility report on the thoroughfare of Nantong across the Yangtze River” from November 1996 to December 1997.

In the consideration of the difficulties in construction entailed by Sutong Bridge’s special location -- the mouth of the Yangtze River, the width of the river, the hydrologic and geographic complications, and the strict demands in regard to river navigation -- China Communication Road Planning and Designing Institute and Shanghai Tunnel Construction Track Communication Designing Institute with relatively high-leveled technology within China were specially invited to study the feasibility of a bridge or a tunnel.

Taking account that the riverbed silt of the Yangtze River is 270 meters (259.38 yards) in depth and combining all relevant factors, the experts decided that a plan for a bridge would be better than a plan for a tunnel in terms of national economic and financial evaluation index. Even more important, according to Qu Yongguo, was the consideration that domestic technology in bridge construction is relatively advanced, having reached the world class level. Therefore, it was more feasible to build bridge than a tunnel.

At press time, sources from the relevant department of Suzhou reported that preparations are underway for the resettlement project for the southern bridge approach of Sutong Bridge. The northern bridge approach is located at Nantong Farm where demolition work will not be heavy. The construction of the bridge project is expected to be launched within the year, according to Nantong municipal officials. In five years, people of the whole world will see the world’s longest stayed-cable bridge built by Chinese over the mouth of the Yangtze River.

(Jiangnan Times, translated by Zhang Tingting and Li Jingrong for china.org.cn April 23, 2002)

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