Construction of the world's longest sea bridge linking Hong Kong to China and Macau began on Tuesday, in a bid to bolster the integration and future growth of the Pearl River Delta, China's stricken economic powerhouse.
A manufacturing hub churning out almost a third of China's exports, the PRD has come under pressure to upgrade itself as an export and services hub after the financial crisis exposed shortcomings and low-end, labour intensive factories closed down.
With land in Guangdong, particularly the PRD, becoming increasingly scarce and costly, the 50-km (31-mile) bridge is expected to bring substantial economic benefits to Guangdong's relatively undeveloped western reaches.
With 35 km to be built over water, it will be the world's longest sea bridge.
Expected to be completed in 2015/2016, the bridge will cost 73 billion yuan ($10.7 billion) though Hong Kong expects it to generate $HK45 billion ($5.8 billion) of economic benefits within 20 years of entering service.
In a blueprint for the region released in January, Beijing's top economic planning agency said the PRD, encompassing Hong Kong and the gaming centre of Macau, could become one of the world's leading economic hubs by 2020.
But the study criticised its low overall level of competitiveness and innovation.
"Through a more convenient and fast transport network, Hong Kong's financial, tourism, trade and logistics and professional services can become better integrated with the Pearl River Delta and the surrounding areas," Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang, said at the ceremony launching the project.
Green groups like the World Wide Fund for Nature oppose the project on environmental grounds, saying construction could devastate marine ecosystems and endanger the rare Chinese white dolphin found in the estuarine waters of the Pearl River.
Officials, however, have pledged to protect ocean ecology and fishery resources.
"We will control the construction noises and turbidity of seawater, and prevent oil pollution," Xinhua news agency quoted Zhu Yongling, an official in charge of construction, as saying.