Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Suhua Freeway: safe and ecological

By Lin Tzu-chiang 林自強

Time and again when a typhoon hits Taiwan, the Suhua Highway linking Suao (蘇澳) and Hualien is closed off because parts of the road collapse. When Typhoon Krosa hit over the weekend, the railway was also shut down. Hualien and Taitung counties were completely cut off. Now is a good time to reconsider the debate over the construction of the Suhua Freeway.

At the beginning of the year, hotel owner Stanley Yen (嚴長壽) and renowned film director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) held a sit-in demonstration to stop construction of the freeway.

Then the Chinese-language magazine Business Weekly published an article entitled "Big construction, big destruction." And so, in the blink of an eye, the construction of the new freeway was cursed, turned into a road that was damaging the environment and that had no practical use whatsoever.

As a professional civil engineer and a future user of the road, I hope that during this typhoon season everyone can give the issue more thought.

It's ironic that even though Taiwan has entered the ranks of developed countries, people still have to risk their lives driving on the Suhua Highway.

Every day thousands of people drive on this road with fear in their hearts. There are 20 dangerous curves on this stretch of the east coast highway, and the death rate is 130 times as high as on freeways on the western side of Taiwan.

Life is priceless, and I hope that those who oppose the freeway can sympathize with those who have to drive on the highway, as well as their relatives and friends.

The freeway will be an ecologically friendly road. Apart from wildlife corridors, safety ramps and the road itself, the construction of the freeway does not include construction access roads in order to avoid digging out large areas from the surrounding slopes.

The dated technology used in building the Central Cross-Island Highway involved large-scale digging and destruction of mountain slopes, but these are things of the past. The methods of construction for the freeway are trustworthy.

Arguments in this debate should be based on data, not emotion. The Business Weekly article "Big construction, big destruction" was intended to encourage protests; however,. much of its content is removed from the reality.

It says, for example, that the freeway will run across 11 fault lines, twice as many as the Chiang Wei-shui Freeway between Taipei and Ilan.

But according to a publication by the Central Geological Survey, there are only 44 active fault lines in all of the country, none of which are in the area where the new freeway is to be built. The only active fault line in the vicinity is the Milun Fault in Hualien City.

In addition, the railway has been in use since February 1980, and in all those 25 years, through many big and small earthquakes, safety has not been compromised. How can one then argue that the Suhua Freeway would be unsafe?

Then there are the cold springs of Suao. The Business Weekly said the freeway would travel through a groundwater control area, and that as soon as digging starts, tunnels would be flooded and the precious cold springs of Suao would face catastrophe.

But the fact is that the railway also crosses the same groundwater control area, and nothing catastrophic has happened there in 25 years.

The freeway will also be at least 2km away from the Suao cold springs, and between them there will still be the old and the new tracks of the railway line.

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