Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Krosa Spurs Calls for Suhua Freeway Project Resumption

Typhoon Krosa, which caused the usual allotment of landslides, roadbed destruction, and flooding on the east coast, has apparently led to calls to build the Suhua Freeway:

The repeated disruptions in transport service and calls from residents on the east coast prompted the government to propose a new transport artery -- the 89-km Suhua freeway -- with a budget of NT$93 billion in eight years.

But the project has run into stiff opposition from environmental protection organizations while the residents in eastern Hualien and Yilan counties have escalated their call for building the new freeway.

Following the latest of typhoons last weekend and throughout September, Transportation and Communications Minister Tsai Duei and officials at The National Expressway Engineering Bureau called for an earlier start for the construction work.

They pointed out the repair work for the old highway in recent weeks already cost more than NT$100 million. Much more money will be needed after the latest attack from Typhoon Krosa over the weekend.

The government has been forced to allocate NT$1.5 billion for continuing repair work on the old road.

The officials said a new freeway will not only help promote economic development in eastern Taiwan but, more importantly, will provide greater safety for motorists and passengers.

They said a proposal from Legislator Lu Po-ji of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party to build the freeway in two phases is worth consideration.

The Suhua Freeway is a proposal to shove a highway over the ridges between Suao and Hualien, which boast some of the highest sea cliffs in the world. The current highway snakes along the ridges overlooking the ocean, and while spectacular, is not conducive to large traffic flows, and blockages are frequent in inclement weather. The project was initiated prior to the DPP's assumption of the Presidency in 2000, but since then has bogged down due to environmental and political issues (protests earlier this year). The project was supported by Chen Shui-bian in both 2000 and 2004.

The project was reviewed, stopped in 2003 with a proposed budget of NT$90 billion (the high cost has also been an issue), and reviewed again in January of this year. The China Post noted:

The Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday refused again to give green light to the construction of a controversial freeway between Suao Harbor and Hualien City on the eastern coast of Taiwan.

The 11 scholars and members on an environmental evaluation panel held reservations on more than 30 problems concerning possible ecological impact and contradiction with land regulations when reviewing the massive construction project planned by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC).

EPA officials said the MOTC also failed to clear the doubts on the impact on the land faults along the 114-kilometer freeway as tunnels and bridges will account for about 90 percent of the whole system.

While one purpose is indeed to bring more tourists down to the East Coast, something the local tourism industry would love to see, the real driver is gravel, the substance that fuels the local political economy. In Taiwan, where public construction is the lubricant of the relationships between the central government and local political factions, access to gravel is of prime political importance, and the swift rivers of the East Coast offer treasures of gravel whose exploitation has not yet been completed. However, trucking that gravel over to the west coast where it can be used to line more river bottoms with concrete or top more rice fields with cookie-cutter housing requires humping the current Suhua Highway, a two-lane, winding, up and down road that is hard on trucks. Hence the desire among local politicians, who are overwhelmingly KMT, for a smooth, straight, four-lane truck route. Last year Chen Li-ling, a local academic, asked why the people of Hualien weren't pissed off:

Recently, the Vice Chairman of Hualian County’s Legislative Assembly slandered and harassed of some members of the Hualian Dreamers’ Union (洄瀾夢想聯盟), professors of Donghua University and National Hualian Teachers College. Their problem? They dared to publicly oppose the Suhua Highway! Once again we see how politics in Hualian try to snuff out any meaningful discussion of issues. It worked in the past when people spoke out against the cement factories in Hualian, it worked when people spoke out against the eradication of Hualian’s ocean shoreline with the cement blocks that are ostensibly used to prevent erosion but which are just one more subsidy for local politicians in cahoots with the cement and construction companies. With wave after wave of defeat we watch our mountains and waters (of which the people of Hualien are said to be so proud) disappear.

Some countries that promote tourism place a premium on areas along the ocean coast. Here in Hualian tourists can be sure to see the 2 or 3 dump trucks passing by every minute of the day laden with gravel and soil gouged out of the Central Mountains, the riverbeds and wherever else they can – whether with or without government license. Foreigners that have pedaled the bicycle trail that leads to at Seven Star Beach (七星潭) pass by one of our monuments to stupidity, Taiwan Cement factory, and then have to hold their noses as they pass by a section of steep slope inhaling the stench of trash from the landfill. To think this could have been a surfer’s paradise. Once not-so-long-ago pristine beaches are now covered with concrete blocks and several times a week we are awakened late at night by the stench of the emissions from the Chung Hua paper pulp factory.

It seems likely, with so much pressure from politicians in both parties, that at some point this freeway will be built. And then the East Coast will be changed forever....

UPDATE: An engineer on the east coast publishes a ringing defense of the proposed freeway.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Changed forever?

It is so conservative, so unlike your style ---- It should be DESTROYED FOREVER ;-)