Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 4 News List

CEPD looking at cheaper a highway alternative

CNA , Taipei

The Executive Yuan has yet to formally decide the fate of an expressway linking Suao and Hualien, but the nation's top economic planning agency has already mapped out an alternate plan that would include improving the existing east coast railway system and building a Taipei-Ilan line.

Officials of the Council for Economic Planning and Development (CEPD) said the alternate plan would cost NT$48.7 billion (US$1.43 billion), and would cut the present travel time by two-thirds.

The Suao-Hualien expressway passed its initial environmental assessments years ago, but environmental groups have continued to claim that the assessments were seriously flawed. The work is currently stalled, though some groups still want the construction to continue, saying the project will benefit local development.

The Ministry of Transportation and Communications told contractors not to begin work that should have started on Aug. 6, prompting widespread speculation that the expressway project may be canceled. Sources said the CEPD decided to improve the existing rail lines to make them faster and take the place of the expressway project.

CEPD officials said that the improved railway would include building a Taipei-Ilan line, improving the existing North Bend Railway (Suao-Hualien) and electrifying the Hualien-Taitung section.

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