A controversial $8.6 billion plan to link Hong Kong to China’s national high-speed rail network won approval from local lawmakers on Saturday, leading to scuffles between police and protesters opposed to the project.
The measure to build the railroad plus accompanying road and infrastructure to connect Hong Kong to the mainland system passed the Chinese territory’s legislature 31-21, according to the government.
The project has run into heavy opposition and triggered protests in recent weeks because of concerns it will displace many residents and cause major traffic congestion and other environmental problems.
Opponents also question the economic benefits touted by the government and say authorities are forcing through a massively expensive project without enough public scrutiny.
Hong Kong officials, however, say most of the public supports a project they say will offer a big economic boost to the territory by cutting train travel time to key mainland cities.
Hundreds of demonstrators camped outside the legislature protested against the project throughout the day amid a large police presence. Shortly after the project’s passage on Saturday night, a group of demonstrators tried to break through a security cordon and were rebuffed by police using pepper spray.
Police declined to comment.
Once the railroad is completed, Shanghai will be an eight-hour journey and Beijing 10 hours, offering the many Hong Kongers working on the mainland a cheaper and efficient alternative to air travel.