Chainsaws threaten 1500 trees as contractors gear up to widen Hiram’s Highway

A total of 1500 trees are facing chainsaws as construction of Stage One of the Hiram’s Highway four-lane carriageway is about to start, Highways Department engineers have told Sai Kung campaigners.

Some trees will be relocated and transplanted, if their age and condition warrant, the Highways people said. Barry Hill, a construction engineer and Berkeley Bay Villas resident, said yellow-hatted workers from China State Construction Company can now be seen around the area with surveying equipment.

Luk Mei Tsuen Road: Many trees have “fell” markers on their trunks, and face removal.

A study is being carried out at present to determine which of the 1500 trees die and which live. Many trees already have “fell” markers on their trunks.Drilling teams doing site investigation work will appear this month. Major mobilisation of construction equipment is expected to start within three months. Berkeley Bay Villas, behind the soon-to-be-resumed Red Wine Zone at Ho Chung, will be close to the new bridge works.

Barry, an owners committee representative, said residents have many concerns: Noise pollution, visual despoliation, traffic snarl-ups and ecological damage.  Ho Chung River is home to turtles, fish and nesting birds.

Artist’s impression of soon-to-be-built arched bridge

The five-lane bridge to be built over the river by the mainlanders will have three 30ft-high steel arches supporting it with steel cables.

A new footbridge crossing the new road is a bigger concern, Barry said, because it will be a chunky concrete structure with square towers housing lifts “and not in keeping with the rural nature of Sai Kung”.

Footbridge “not in keeping with the rural nature of Sai Kung”

The bridge over the river will supplant the existing bridge.  Two lanes will first be constructed on the sea side, opened to traffic, then the old bridge will come down and another two lanes built. Noise barriers up to five metres high will be built on the bridge and near Marina Cove, partially answering residents’ noise concerns.

Stage One of the new four-lane carriageway stops at Pak Wai at the northern end of Marina Cove. Barry said the residents’ main objection from the beginning six years ago of their campaign is that Stage One is being built before Stage Two is even designed and approved.  S1 is supposed to be completed by 2020, when S2 is expected to start.

“This is illogical,”he said. “It just moves the bottleneck from  one place to another.”

The Highways Department has given assurances that two lanes will be kept open as Stage One is built. The speed limit on the new road will be 50kph.

Residents have campaigned to ensure the road improvement also creates “a pretty drive into Sai Kung with flowers and gardens.” There has been no assurance by the HD that this will eventuate.

Friends of Sai Kung Vice Chairman Guy Shirra provided his notes of a recent meeting with the Highways Department, Home Affairs Department and the consulting firm Meinhardt.  Here is a summary:

  • FSK supports the widening of the top end of Hiram’s Highway to two lanes down and three lanes up. But it opposes the widening of the loop road from Ho Chung Road via Luk Mei Tsuen Rd back to HH, because it will accomplish nothing.
  • The society fears the historic HH opening stone will be damaged by contractors.
  • FSK proposes moving the noise barriers at Marina Cove closer to the estate so the roadside can be greened and pedestrian paths provided.
  • The traffic signals proposed near the bridge and at Marina Cove will slow traffic, FSK says.
  • The planned footbridge near the Ho Chung River will be an eyesore. It is unnecessary if the signal-controlled pedestrian crossing is continued.
  • The bus stop on the new bridge, causing it to be widened from four lanes to five, should be moved, so the bridge does not have to be so big.
  • FSK wants a five-metre wide buffer zone left near the contractors’ work area by the river for the protection of flora and fauna.

Designing Hong Kong’s Paul Zimmerman present at the meeting with Messrs Shirra and Hill made typically astute suggestions, among them:

  • A signature lighting scheme (BUZZ comment: Damn good idea).
  • Replacement of concrete surfaces with granite stone.
  • Greenery at the top of noise barriers.

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