Fri, Aug 06, 2004 - Page 2 News List

Central highway on hold until area stabilizes again

25KM OF TROUBLE Though the extra travel time between Lishan and Dongshih will remain up to three hours, people have had five years to get used to it

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER IN CHIUFEN , TAIPEI COUNTY

Reconstruction of the Central Cross-Island Highway between Kukuan and Techi, which was damaged by Tropical Storm Mindulle will be suspended until geological evaluation confirms that the area is stable enough for reconstruction.

"We have spent about NT$1.3 billion repairing roads damaged by the Sept. 21 earthquake in 1999 and NT$750 million on land conservation," Premier Yu Shyi-kun told reporters yesterday in Chiufen.

"The damage caused by Mindulle may cost between NT$4.5 billion and NT$9.2 billion for road repairs, NT$750 million for land and water conservation and NT$10.5 billion for fixing damaged reservoirs and equipment at hydroelectric plants," Yu said. "We'd waste more of the taxpayers' money if we don't decide to put it [road repair] off now."

The 25km highway segment was about to be reopened early last month when Mindulle hit, closing the road once more with falling rocks, landslides and mudflows.

Yu said that the Cabinet is drafting a special bill to cut down on or outlaw land development in mountain, coastal and flood-prone areas. The draft bill is scheduled for release by Oct. 7.

Yu also pledged to spend NT$100 billion over the next 10 years on land restoration projects.

According to Lin Sheng-feng (林盛豐), a minister without portfolio who briefed reporters about the road situation and the government's response measures, the suspension of reconstruction will cause inconvenience only between Lishan and Dongshih.

"The road between Lishan and Dongshi has been under repair since the Sept. 21 earthquake in 1999," Lin said. "Over the past five years, travelers have gotten used to taking advantage of the alternative route, Provincial Highway 14." The travel time between the two places will take an additional two to three hours, or an increase of NT$200 million in transportation costs a year.

Kukuan, a township with a population of 580, is known for its hot springs. Kukuan attracts about 398,000 tourists a year, with the tourism industry bringing annual revenues of over NT$980 million.

Most of the 3,200 Han and 1,300 Aboriginal people in Lishan make their living by growing fruits and vegetables. Lishan's annual agricultural output is worth NT$2.65 billion.

With Mindulle dumping a record amount of rain in central and southern Taiwan, the water-gathering area of the Dajia River running through Taichung County was filled with hundreds of millions of cubic meters of rocks and soil.

Equipment at six hydroelectric plants along the Dajia River was damaged. The cost to repair this damage is estimated at about NT$8.4 billion, and the repairs will take a year to complete.

With the highway segment blocked, maintenance and repair engineers can still enter the Kukuan generating plant from Lishan. In the meantime, the greater Taichung area's water supply will come from the Techi and Li Yu Tan reservoirs.

Road repairs between Kukuan and Dongshih are scheduled to be completed by the middle of this month.

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