Chinese state media are reporting that construction of the first China-Russia highway bridge across the Amur River began on December 24, more than 28 years after it was first proposed and more than a year after an agreement on the project was reached.
The plans call for 20-kilometer bridge that stretches from Heihe, a border town in China’s Heilongjiang Province, to the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk.
China is meant to build about one-third of the structure while Russia has agreed to build the other two-thirds of the bridge from its side of the Amur River.
Russian engineers are also tasked with connecting the two bridge sections together.
According to Chinese traffic department officials in Hailongjiang Province, the toll bridge is expected to transport more than 3 million metric tons of cargo and 1.5 million passengers per year after its scheduled completion date in October 2019.
But some analysts are questioning whether mutual distrust between the two countries will keep the project from going forward on schedule -- despite the dire need to develop infrastructure for cross-border trade.
Russia, facing Western sanctions since 2014 for its forcible annexation of Crimea and its involvement in eastern Ukraine's conflict, has been eager to develop export routes to China.
China, meanwhile, is thirsty for energy and raw materials from Russia to fuel its economic growth.
But if other stalled joint-infrastructure projects serve as an indicator, the goal of completing the proposed $355.6 million Amur River highway bridge by October 2019 could be a stretch.
China and Russia had agreed a decade ago to jointly build a railway bridge across the Amur River at the remote Russian frontier settlement of Nizhneleninskoye.
That bridge would lower the cost of transporting iron ore from a Russian mine to a large Chinese steel mill by reducing the current transport distance of more than 1,000 kilometers to just 233 kilometers.
But although China has completed its side of the project, major construction from the Russian side has yet to begin.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also signed a 30-year-gas deal with Beijing during a visit to China in May 2014 that was estimated to be worth $400 billion -- a deal that would require the construction of a major new pipeline by Russia.
But Russia has stalled on building the so-called Power of Siberia pipeline.
Chinese diplomats have complained and expressed dismay about the slow pace of the construction work by Russia.
After Western sanctions were imposed against Russia in 2014, Moscow and Beijing had vowed that they would increase their bilateral trade to $100 billion during 2016 and to $200 billion by 2020.
Instead, two-way trade between the countries fell by 28 percent during 2015 to just $68 billion, and bilateral trade has been slow to recover during 2016.
With reporting by China Daily, The New York Times, and the BBC