Thu, Jan 19, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Tunnel opening delayed

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Transportation authorities said yesterday that the Taipei-Ilan freeway's Hsuehshan Tunnel (雪山隧道) might not be opened until June at the earliest, prompting pan-blue lawmakers to criticize what they called the Ministry of Transportation and Communica-tion's about-face on the matter.

"We're happy to hear Minister of Transportation and Communications Lin Ling-san (林陵三) has delayed the opening of the tunnel," said People First Party (PFP) Legislator Liu Wen-hsiung (劉文雄). "But hasn't Lin changed his mind too quickly?"

Lin announced late on Tuesday night that the opening date of the tunnel would be delayed and that no timetable had been set for its opening.

Lin said the ministry would not open the tunnel until all safety facilities were fully installed.

Lin had planned to open the tunnel before the Lunar New Year, despite the objections of tunnel inspectors.

The plan was seen by many as a desperate effort by Lin to keep his job.

Although the opening of the tunnel has been postponed, Lin said the segment of the freeway between Toucheng (頭城) and Suao (蘇澳) would open on Saturday.

The 12.9 km tunnel -- the fifth-longest in the world -- is the centerpiece of the 31km Taipei-Ilan freeway segment connecting Taipei City's Nangang (南港) and Toucheng in Ilan County.

Once completed, the freeway is expected to reduce travel time between Taipei and Ilan from two hours to 40 minutes.

Inspector Lee Ke-tsung (李克聰) said yesterday that he was happy the ministry had put off opening the tunnel because the project had not been finished.

The fire extinguishing system, for example, won't be done until the end of next month.

The lighting and electronic system, as well as the ventilation system, may not be completed until the end of March, while the traffic control system is not expected to be finished until the end of May.

The freeway is considered a major breakthrough for Ilan's transportation and road development. Construction of the tunnel, which began in July 1991, has been a trying task.

The team originally planned to complete the drilling for the Hsuehshan Tunnel by the end of 2000.

However, in the first two years of work, there was hardly any progress as the team was held up by Hsuehshan's odd series of faults and frequent flooding.

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