Sun, Jun 18, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Hsuehshan tunnel proves popular with motorists

GOING UNDERGROUND While substantial numbers of drivers used the newly opened tunnel, the dust still hadn't settled on the various problems surrounding it

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Chiang Wei-shui Freeway continued to experience heavy traffic yesterday following the official opening of the Hsuehshan Tunnel on Thursday which has encouraged more motorists to use the road.

The Pinglin Traffic Control Center reported that after 7am the number of cars driving through the tunnel each hour exceeded 1,000.

By noon, over 10,000 cars, both northbound and southbound, had passed through the tunnel.

In addition, the Taiwan Area National Expressway Bureau continued to control the traffic flow on the Chiang Wei-shui Freeway by regulating the number of cars coming from the Formosa Freeway interchange at Nangang, causing the traffic on the latter to back up for 2km.

The National Highway Police Bureau also reported that a total of 66 tickets were issued on Friday for violations of driving safety regulations in the tunnel, 43 of which were for speeding offenses.

Meanwhile, Minister of Transportation and Communications Kuo Yao-chi (郭瑤琪) denied media reports yesterday that said she had asked the chief of the Taiwan Area National Expressway Engineering Bureau Bane Chiou (邱琳濱) to resign from his position and retire early within two hours of the tunnel opening to the public on Friday.

"There is no change in anyone's position as of now," Kuo said.

Media reports suggested that Chiou would be forced to step down after failing to locate an appropriate jeep for Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and three other former premiers to use to drive through the tunnel during its opening ceremony.

Reports said it was the Directorate General of Highways (DGH) that managed to find a suitable jeep.

It took Su almost 15 minutes to start the stick-shift jeep, however, which turned into a gaffe broadcast nationwide. This angered Kuo, leading to her decision to replace Chiou, the reports added.

Chiou denied the reports yesterday, saying he has not handed in his resignation and does not have any plans for early retirement.

Kuo said yesterday she would not punish her staff for minor mistakes, but said she did ask Chiou to seek assistance from the DGH in finding an appropriate jeep earlier this week. Kuo later discovered that Chiou had not contacted the DGH for help.

While denying the reports, Kuo gave indications of dissatisfaction with Chiou's performance when she talked with the Taipei Times yesterday.

She said that Chiou did not appear to have a full grasp of the work on the tunnel whenever he was consulted.

"The credit for completing the Hsuehshan Tunnel should be given to people who have been working at the construction site all these years, not the expressway engineering bureau," she said, adding that the tunnel construction was nearly halted when she became minister in February.

Kuo added that the tunnel's construction workers had been under considerable pressure. Occupational hazards, questioning of the project, derision from legislators and the announcement of the delayed opening of the tunnel were all demoralizing, she said.

"[To them] it was like the construction of the tunnel would never end," she said.

Kuo noted that the Ministry will announce new management for some of the bureaus next month or in August.

Sources within the ministry have indicated that Chiou, along with the chief of the Bureau of High Speed Rail, Wu Fu-hsiang (吳福祥), and the chief of the Taiwan Area National Expressway Bureau, Chen Chien-yu (陳建宇), will be asked to leave their positions.

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