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Feng Maorun: Building Great Bridges

Through 40 years of uninterrupted improvement of infrastructure construction, China's highway transport now has leap-forward development. By the end of 2017, the total length of China's highways had reached 4,773,500 kilometers, including 136,500 kilometers of expressways, ranking the first in the world. Meanwhile, China has also made great progress in building bridges.

China's bridges have been built with scale and speed unprecedented in the past 20 years, with an average of 20,000 new bridges being finished each year. This figure excludes the 5,000 bridges on the new village roads. Feng Maorun, former chief engineer at Ministry of Transport, has fully recognised the achievements made in China's bridge construction since the reform and opening up.

At present, China has 833,000 highway bridges with a total length of 52,000 kilometers. China has become a veritable power in bridge building.

Regarding changes in the geographical location of highway bridges, Feng thinks that China's bridge construction can be divided into four periods: construction started in the Pearl River Delta, and shifted to the middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River, the Yangtze River Delta, and finally back to the Pearl River Delta again.

In the early 1980s, Guangdong province, at the frontier of reform and opening up, piloted the policy “build bridges with loans and repay loans with tolls” in order to solve the financial restraint. Borrowing from Guangdong Namyue Group based in Macau, four 100-meter-span bridges in Zhongshan on the west bank of the Pearl River Estuary and Shunde were built, setting off a boom in highway infrastructure construction in the Pearl River Delta.

During that period, bridges with spans over 200, 400, 600, and 800 meters were also built on the Yellow River, the Pearl River, and the Huangpu River.

“These bridges are the milestone for the development of modern bridges in China, as they technically explored and prepared for the bridges constructed across the Yangtze River,” said Feng.

The “arteries” of national highways were cut off by the Yangtze River. At the beginning of the reform and opening up, there were only three bridges along the 3000-km Yangtze River allowed traffic.

In the early 1990s, the Ministry of Transport initiated the construction of highway bridges across the Yangtze.

In one decade, the technical obstacles for various types of bridges were overcome, with five different bridges were built in Hubei, Anhui, Sichuan, and Jiangsu were built. The construction techniques of these different types of bridges laid a solid foundation for the cross-river highway bridges of larger scale in the new century.

The Jiangyin Highway Bridge, with a span of 1,385 meters, is the first one in China with a span over 1000 meters and ranked the fourth longest in the world. Responsible for the design and technology of Jiangyin Bridge, Feng still remembers all the problems encountered in the bridge complex.

Feng led a team of more than 40 people working on the bridge for three years before he finally finished an in-depth study based on the original feasibility report, and then completed the preliminary design, technical design and construction design of the project. He still cherishes a photograph of all young engineers involved building the Jiangyin bridge.

With the implementation of the regional economic integration strategy in the 21st century, the new peak of bridge construction is appearing in the Yangtze River, especially in the Yangtze River Delta. Chinese bridges are embarking on a new journey of “innovation and transcendence” and turning the country into a bridge power.

In order to balance economic and social development of southern and northern Jiangsu Province, seven cross-river highway bridges with a span over 1000m have been built on the 400-kilometer section of the Yangtze River running to Suzhou and Shanghai.

Bridges are also constructed to cross bays and straits and connect islands. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which has just been opened to traffic, has attracted worldwide attention from the very beginning. This cross-sea super project integrating bridges, islands and tunnels showcased the latest achievements in the development of engineering technology for highway bridges.

With the development of the western region, bridges across the ravine canyons in the western mountains have also mushroomed. In less than 20 years, China has built 181 large bridges and 22 bridges with spans of over a kilometer.

“All bridge types in the world can be found in China; bridges that are not available elsewhere in the world can also be found in China,” said Feng. Concrete-filled steel tubular arch bridges and concrete bridges with concrete-filled steel tubes are structures invented independently by China that have made significant progress in the last 20 years.

A number of bridge projects have won the National Science and Technology Progress Award and the American International Bridge Conference Award, and been honored by the Federaltion International des Ingenieurs-conseils, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Feng believes that these bridges are underpinned by a set of technologies and construction methods created by China's road and bridge practitioners with independent intellectual property rights and Chinese characteristics. The construction concept has also been upgraded from “finishing as soon as possible” to creating quality projects.

With 40 years of practice and accumulation, China's bridge construction has gradually transformed from “Made in China” to “Created in China”, undergoing a technological upgrading from the export of bridge products to bridge construction, design and overseas consulting.

In recent international competitive biddings, China's bridge teams have continuously won against strong foreign competitors and gained the opportunity to build bridges for the world. Today, other than Australia and South America, every continent has at least one flower in the garden of Chinese bridges.

Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Company Limited, a subsidiary of  China Communications Construction Company Limited, has involved in building San Francisco New Bay Bridge in the United States.

The Halogaland Bridge in Norway, built by Sichuan Road and Bridge Construction Group Co., Ltd, also won international recognition of the comprehensive strength of China's bridge construction.

“It is justified to say that China's bridge engineering technology has caught up with the international advanced level and become the power in bridge technology worldwide,” Feng said.