Hong Kong may see a toll-free Eastern Harbour Crossing in the second half of this year, as delays in the passage of bills at the legislative council could put the government takeover of the tunnel in legal limbo, a Hong Kong lawmaker has warned.

In order for the government to keep current prices for the tunnel, legislators must pass a bill allowing the new toll prices by the end of July.

If not, the ownership of the tunnel passes to the government without any price being fixed on August 7 when the “build-operate-transfer” franchise of the tunnel expires, and could see the government lose out on approximate HK$197.7 million dollars in toll fees.

In 2014, the tunnel earned HK$801 million in toll revenue, that on average 73,035 vehicle trips were made per day and average toll per vehicle trip was HK$30.07.

The Eastern Harbour Crossing
The Eastern Harbour Crossing. File Photo: Wikicommons.

“There are many ‘big’ bills waiting to be discussed, such as the Private Columbaria Bill, and the government’s annual budget,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Wu Chi-wai. As these bills will take some time to be handled before the takeover bill can be debated, the situation is “theoretically possible,” he added.

Other delays include the current filibustering by pan-democratic lawmakers to delay the debate on the controversial copyright bill, and the cancellation of two general assembly meetings because of low participation by lawmakers.

Asides from other bills that take more precedence, there is also the added complication of the LegCo election in September. A new council would only be appointed in October potentially delaying the bill further.

Should the bill be passed the government has said it will not lower fees, as doing so could exacerbate existing traffic jam problems in the tunnel which has already reached maximum capacity. said the government’s Transport Advisory Committee in October last year.

The price may be reconsidered after the construction of the Central-Wan Chai Bypass is completed around 2017, said Larry Kwok Lam-kwong, chairman of the committee.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.