Tue, Jul 27, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Cabinet supports Suao-Hualien freeway plan

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Despite the opposition of environmental groups, the Cabinet will push ahead with the construction of the NT$96.2 billion (US$2.84 billion) Suao-Hualien freeway if the legislature approves three more evaluation reports mandated by law.

The decision was made yesterday afternoon by the Cabinet's No. 5 National Freeway response task force headed by minister without portfolio Lin Sheng-feng (林盛豐) and Council for Economic Planning and Development Vice Chairman Chang Ching-sen (張景森).

According to the statute governing the five-year, NT$500 billion (US$14.66 billion) 10 New Major Construction Projects package in which the freeway project is included, each of the projects go through an environmental impact assessment, feasibility report, alternative measures and cost effectiveness analysis on the alternative measures. The evaluation reports must be approved by the Cabinet and then the legislature before the project is carried out.

The environmental impact assessment of the Suao-Hualien freeway project took place in March 2000 when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was still in power. The assessment acknowledged that the project could have unforeseen environmental effects that would have to be dealt with as they occurred.

In other words, the freeway project will begin as soon as the Cabinet and legislature approve the feasibility report, alternative measures and then cost-effectiveness analysis on the alternative measures.

The task force yesterday also reached a consensus that all government agencies involved in the project must map out plans in response to various concerns of environmental groups and send them to the Cabinet for further review.

Cabinet must decide before Aug. 6 whether to go ahead with the freeway project, as the National Expressway Engineering Bureau has signed a NT$3.2 billion contract with Long Da Construction and a Japanese construction company, the Maeda Corporation, for the construction of the southern segment of the Chongteh tunnel.

If construction does not start within six months after the signing of the contract, or Aug. 7, the Cabinet must compensate the contractors for their losses.

The bureau has also signed a NT$2.4 billion contract with the Raito Engineering Corporation to construct an interchange in Hsincheng, which must also begin on Aug. 7.

Characterizing Cabinet's decision as "reasonable," Kirk Yang (楊景行), general manager of Long Da Construction, said he could understand the government's concerns.

"Despite the suspension of the project, we're glad they still want to build the freeway," Yang said.

The idea of constructing a freeway in eastern Taiwan was first proposed by the former KMT government in 1990 as part of a plan to build a national freeway system. The KMT government mapped out the plan for the Suao-Hualien freeway in January 2000, two months before the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the presidential election.

The Environmental Protection Administration gave conditional approval to an environmental impact study in March 2000, and the Chen administration announced in December 2002 that construction would begin last December. The project, however, was pushed back three months because of pressure from local environmental groups.

The Cabinet's decision to delay construction had been made in response to a request by Hualien County Commissioner Hsieh Shen-shan (謝深山), who claimed that the county needed more time to map out supplementary plans and that the freeway may damage the environment.

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