Tue, Oct 17, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Lawmakers urge closure of the Hsuehshan Tunnel

TUNNEL VISION It may be necessary to close the tunnel, which only opened in June, to repair a leak which caused traffic chaos during the recent Mid-Autumn festival

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lawmakers yesterday urged transportation officials to consider temporarily shutting down the Hsuehshan Tunnel in order to repair a water leak that caused havoc during the Mid-Autumn Festival.

"It took nearly 13 years to complete the construction of the tunnel, which at one point was put on hold for eight years," said Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chi Kuo-tung (紀國棟). "If we waited eight years in the past, why can't we wait another few months or so to fix a mistake that has existed for over a decade?"

People First Party legislator Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) said yesterday that the water leak was caused by broken waterproofing membrane in the tunnel.

"It would be a relief if the damage was caused by a mistake made during the construction," Lee said, "But the problem would be more complicated if the leak is caused by a geological displacement in the area."

Lee told the reporters that the flow of underground water sometimes created crystals of calcium carbonate, which in turn clog the drains buried inside the walls of the tunnel. If this proves to be the cause of the leak construction crews will have to tear down the walls of the tunnel in order to remove the crystals, he said.

The suggestion was made during yesterday's legislative transportation committee, where lawmakers questioned the safety of the tunnel after media reports of water dripping from its walls.

Vice minister of Transportation and Communications Oliver Yu (游芳來) said yesterday that a special taskforce had been formed to diagnose potential problems with the tunnel.

Within two weeks the group is expected to identify whether the leak is a threat to driving safety, he said, adding that it would then determine how the problem could be solved.

Yu said that the task force will be led by Yang Yeong-bin (楊永斌), a civil engineering professor at National Taiwan University, who has been authorized to choose other tunnel experts for the team.

According to Yu, the Taiwan Area National Freeway Engineering Bureau has managed to stop the water leak for the time being by laying drainpipes and conduits inside the walls as well as by grouting. Contractors and other administrative agencies were ordered by the transportation ministry to submit an improvement plan within a week.

Meanwhile, KMT legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) criticized the ministry's plan to open the tunnel to large-sized vehicles in June next year, saying it has yet to address potential safety issues.

"The ministry cannot make it government policy [to open the tunnel for large-size trucks] before the unresolved safety issues are addressed," Wu said.

Yu said yesterday that the tunnel was designed to accommodate both small and large trucks, but the ministry decided that it would initially only open the tunnel to small-sized vehicles because motorists needed to get used to driving in such a long tunnel.

He noted that the tunnel will ultimately be open to large vehicles, but with conditions.

"The tunnel crews must be equipped to handle potential emergency situations generated by these larger vehicles," he said.

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