Yilan County Commissioner Lin Zi-miao (林姿妙) last week called for the central government to support the extension of the High Speed Rail (HSR) to the county to ease traffic congestion in the Hsuehshan Tunnel.
However, extending the HSR to Yilan would not solve the problem.
Following the completion of the Suhua Highway Improvement Project connecting Yilan and Hualien County last year, Yilan has seen heavy congestion at the tunnel at the northern access point to the county and at the Suhua Highway in the southern end.
Based on Lin’s reasoning that extending the HSR to Yilan would ease congestion in the tunnel, then the line should be extended to Hualien as well.
The problem is that the cost-benefit of extending the HSR to Yilan and Hualien is rather low. Yilan has a population of almost 460,00, while Hualien’s is about 330,000. Even if Taitung County’s population of 220,000 were added in, the total population in eastern Taiwan would be no more than 1 million people.
Would that be enough to support the operation of an HSR line? It would be a considerable expense to extend the HSR to eastern Taiwan and the burden would fall on taxpayers.
Moreover, the Yilan County Government has over the past decade repeatedly failed to gain the central government’s support for its railway elevation project and the proposed construction of a freeway through Hualien and Taitung counties has been delayed by environmental impact assessments, not to mention that the planning and construction of an HSR extension would be expensive and time-consuming.
It is still too early to discuss extending the HSR to the east coast, and costs are certain to rise. It is not surprising then that Lin’s proposal has met with criticism.
Traffic jams occur on Chiang Wei-shui Memorial Freeway (Freeway No. 5) between Taipei and Yilan County during holidays because most people returning to or visiting Yilan rely heavily on the freeway, instead of using public transport such as the railway or highway networks.
The priority should be to boost public confidence in the county’s public transportation systems so as to reduce the number of people opting to drive themselves.
This would be the best way to solve Yilan’s traffic problem.
Wei Shih-chang is an engineer.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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