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Megaprojects: 4 Feats that will Rewrite the Future of Humanity

These projects will radically change the interconnectedness of the world


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Construction on the the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge in June 2018.

On October 24, 2018 the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge was opened to the public. This 34-mile long bridge-tunnel system, consisting of a series of three cable-stayed bridges, an undersea tunnel, and four artificial islands is currently the longest open-sea crossing on earth.

Started in 2009, the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macao Bridge cost $18.8 billion and is designed to last 120 years. The bridge also comes with a few unusual hi-tech capabilities to monitor drivers including earthquake and collision protection; health rate and blood pressure measures; cameras looking for yawning drivers; and soon-to-be 5G capabilities.

This nine-year construction project not only raises the bar of human capabilities, it sets the stage for a series of even more challenging megaprojects that will both redefine humanity and the world as we know it.

What are Megaprojects?

Gone are the days where people were impressed by projects costing $50 to $100 million. We are witnessing an explosion in the number of over $1 billion projects with some, like the Qiddiya, Al-Ula, Neom, and the Red Sea Projects in Saudi Arabia, likely to exceed $1 trillion.

But the ones we hear about today are merely scratching the surface of tomorrow’s super megaprojects and the massive undertakings that will happen over the coming decades.

There are several important reasons why this is happening: the emergence of megacities driven by a demand for major infrastructure improvements; overall economic growth; global awareness giving countries a greater desire to standout and impress the rest of the world; fear of technological unemployment due to automation; and self-collateralization with the creation of spinoff economies from megaprojects.

The growing list of megaprojects include everything from tunnels to bridges, dams, highways, airports, hospitals, skyscrapers, floating cities, wind farms, offshore oil and gas rigs, aluminum smelters, global communications systems, aerospace missions, particle accelerators, entire new cities and much more.

Despite their challenges, there are four major bridge-tunnel projects that will redefine humanity over the coming decades.

Bridges Versus Tunnels

For many decades, infrastructure proponents have argued the relative advantage/disadvantages of tunnels and bridges or a combination of both.

While bridges look far more impressive than tunnels, they pose a number of challenges when it comes to ships passing underneath, weather-related issues, and ongoing maintenance and repair issues.

Tunnels tend to be more expensive to build and operate, but will experience far less deterioration over time. While a 1,000-year tunnel is conceivable, a 1,000-year bridge is not.

Highway Versus Railroad Versus Tube Transportation

One key decision point with each of these bridge-tunnel projects will be whether to design it strictly for cars and trucks, trains, or whether it should also include provisions for future forms of Hyperloop-style tube-transportation.

These will be critical decision points moving forward. Each project below will have radically different use cases and traffic demands, and no easy answers.

Four World Changing Bridge-Tunnel Projects

Our capabilities are growing. Every technological advance is giving us new capabilities with the ability to accomplish many times what we could even ten years ago.

For this reason, super engineering feats like I’m describing here are within grasp.

Even though there are many more bridge-tunnel projects that will have a significant effect, in my opinion, these four will have the greatest impact on people everywhere in the world.

The first is the Bering Strait Crossing, a bridge-tunnel system across the Bering Strait that will effectively create a ground transportation link between North America and Asia. The most likely design will involve a bridge-tunnel system crossing the relatively shallow Bering Strait between the Chukotka Peninsula in Russia and the Seward Peninsula in Alaska. Overall cost estimates range from $65-$100 billion.

The second is an elaborate highway system connecting a number of countries in North and South America. The Darien Gap (as it has become known) is an elaborate highway system was built throughout both continents except for a 60-mile stretch connecting Panama to Columbia. The Pan-American Highway now consists of over 19,000 miles of roads ranging from Prudhoe Bay in northern Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina on the southern tip of South America, with only one short piece missing in the middle – the Darian Gap, which begins in Yaviza, Panama and ends in Turbo, Colombia roughly 66 miles away, with a number of route options available.

The third (and longest), the Japan–Korea Undersea Crossing is a proposed bridge-tunnel project to connect Japan with South Korea via an undersea tunnel passing over-under the Korea Strait using the islands of Iki and Tsushima. The distance along this route is roughly 80 miles at its narrowest point, but the latest proposal is to construct 120-mile bridge-tunnel. Both officials in Japan and Korea are attempting to make it happen. However, cost estimates now exceed $90 billion for the project.

The Strait of Gibraltar Crossing is the fourth and final project. This project spans the 9-mile narrow waterway (The Strait) separating Europe and Africa. Over the years several tunneling projects have been proposed, and governments in both Africa and Europe would love to see it happen. But, so far no one has come up with a complete plan for dealing with the extreme engineering challenges and the necessary funding.

As proposed, the tunnel would be 25 miles long, roughly 1,000 feet underground and take 15 years to complete. Cost estimates range from $10-25 billion.

The Takeaway

Each of these projects has been in discussions for decades, but what has changed is our exponential growth in capabilities.

While things like this seemed extreme in the past, each new technology breakthrough makes past difficult projects seem infinitely more doable today.

Countries themselves are being judged by their willingness to tackle super difficult megaprojects and the scientific prowess they can bring to the table.

My prediction is that construction on each of these projects will begin within the next decade, and the interconnectedness of the entire world will radically change as a result.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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