Mon, Apr 13, 2009 - Page 8 News List

The myth of a harmless freeway

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年

Freeway No. 6, dubbed as Taiwan’s first eco-friendly freeway, has opened to traffic.

Engineers have built a “biological corridor” to more closely link the project with the natural environment, incorporating ecological protection techniques in the freeway’s construction and integrating the efforts of people from various sectors.

The freeway is a breakthrough for Taiwanese engineering, and some are suggesting that it can serve as an example for the controversial Suhua Freeway (蘇花高) project.

But this “eco-freeway” faces major challenges.

First, we must ask whether the freeway will stand up to natural disasters. Nantou County has experienced many serious disasters; last year’s Typhoon Sinlaku, for example, caused a massive landslide that toppled two hotels at the Lushan (盧山) Hot Springs Area.

Also, Guosing (國姓), Puli (埔里) and Jenai (仁愛) townships in Nantou County were badly affected by the 921 earthquake a decade ago, with many people losing their property, their homes or their lives.

With Freeway No. 6 costing NT$10 billion (US$294 million) and running through areas that have been wrecked by natural disasters, I would like to believe that the engineers took contingencies such as typhoons, torrential rain, landslides and earthquakes into consideration.

Second, we must ask if the areas around the freeway will stand up to the damage caused by manmade activities. In central Taiwan, the two major rivers are the Dajia (大甲溪) and the Chuoshui (濁水溪), whose catchment areas include a large number of mountain streams. The problem is that illegal gravel collection has been going on for years, with several heads of the Third River Management Office in Taichung County resigning after being charged with gravel theft and corruption. A potentially major geological problem stems from illegal mining in these areas, and this could have been one of the factors behind the collapse of the Houfeng Bridge in Taichung County during Typhoon Sinlaku.

Especially worthy of attention is the fact that Freeway No. 6 has been built high above the ground in river valleys and in hilly areas, which leads one to wonder how activities such as gravel mining may have damaged the surrounding environment and whether this will compromise the safety of the freeway.

Third, we must ask how the freeway will affect the ecology of the environment by the side of the road. Even if all natural and human variables are taken into account when building such a road, no one can guarantee that the freeway will not damage the environment, a problem that is not wished away because the National Freeway Bureau built a number of “ecological zones.” Merely opening the freeway to traffic will bring noise and vibrations to a once-peaceful mountain area. Roads are not natural objects and their presence will have an impact on the local ecology, even when environmental impact assessments state that they will not.

Fourth, we must ask if the freeway will damage the wider environment. The road will bring larger numbers of tourists into the area. Recent media reports have said that more than double the normal amount of tourists have been visiting Puli, Sun Moon Lake (日月潭) and surrounding scenic areas.

Some reports said tourists have complained that they could not find food because of the sharp increase in visitors. It is difficult to guarantee that the environment will not suffer from large amounts of garbage, for example, or that animals and vegetation in surrounding forests will not suffer.

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