About 100 residents from Namasiya (那瑪夏) and Taoyuan (桃源) districts in Greater Kaohsiung protested in front of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) yesterday over its decision to suspend reconstruction projects on Provincial Highway Nos. 20 and 21.
Highway No. 21 is the only highway to Namasiya, while Highway No. 20, also known as the Southern Cross-Island Highway, is the only provincial highway to Taoyuan District. The two districts, as well as the highways, were severely damaged by Typhoon Morakot two years ago.
The Directorate-General of Highways (DGH) has made the two highways accessible by building disaster-resistant makeshift passages at damaged road sections.
Protesters said Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) had promised them that the government would complete the reconstruction of the Southern Cross-Island Highway by next year.
However, Mao said last week that reconstruction of the highway would be suspended in the short term.
The protesters said the government’s promises turned out to be lies and that it did not regard Aborigines as citizens.
Seven residents in those two areas have died in the past two years because of inconvenient transportation, they said.
“Either they were washed away by surging water in the river or they fell off a cliff,” one protester said of the victims. “Some of the sick ones died on their way to hospital.”
Liu Hsing-chien (劉行健) of Taoyuan District said the government had said last week that between 95 percent and 98 percent of the infrastructure in disaster zones had been rebuilt.
However, the residents certainly do not feel that way, Liu said.
Others accused the DGH of being inefficient in executing highway reconstruction projects, adding that some of the agency’s rebuilding plans indicated bad judgement and wasted taxpayers’ money.
Namasiya District Adminstrator Bayang Isiliduan (白樣．伊斯理緞) said he watched between 100 and 200 cars pass through Nanhua District (南化) daily on Greater Tainan Road No. 179 during rainy season and wondered what would happen if any drove off a cliff.
Isiliduan said a DGH official had informed him that reconstruction of Highway No. 21 could be suspended because of lack of funds.
Spending on the project has already reached NT$3.2 billion (US$110.4 million).
“If the government suspends the project or decides not to allocate the budget for it, Namasiya will be destroyed because Highway No. 21 is Namasiya’s only lifeline,” he said. “I feel so ashamed.”
DGH Deputy Director Chao Hsin-hua (趙興華) accepted the petition from the protesters.
“We had finished evaluations for the reconstruction of the two highways, which still need to be approved by the MOTC and the Executive Yuan,” Chao said, adding that it could take at least six months before the evaluation report is submitted for review at the Executive Yuan.
Funding and time needed would be determined after the evaluation is approved, Chao said.
The DGH said torrential rain that hit central and southern parts of the country on July 19 elevated the riverbed along Highway No. 20 and lengthened the river along Highway No. 21. Under such circumstances, the agency said it had to be cautious to avoid repeating the mistakes it made with the Central Cross-Island Highway, which cost the nation about NT$2 billion to rebuild after the 921 Earthquake in 1999.