Members of the tourism industry in eastern Taiwan yesterday called for immediate action by the government to improve the transportation situation and relieve their imminent loss of business from the closure of the Suhua Highway.
A section of the Suhua Highway between Suao (蘇澳) and Tongao (東澳) was closed on Saturday after a road collapsed because of heavy rain, resulting in mass cancellations of hotel reservations for the Christmas and New Year holidays.
While railway and air traffic were unaffected, tickets have been difficult to come by, so tourists canceled their reservations, hotel owners in Hualien County and Taitung County told a press conference at the Legislative Yuan, organized by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) and Liu Chao-hao (劉櫂豪).
The Suhua Highway has been closed at least 35 times between 2008 and this year, including 18 times this year alone, Hsiao said, adding that the closures have caused business losses of more than NT$1 billion (US$34.43 million) in eastern Taiwan this year.
The Directorate-General of Highways (DGH) aims to resume operations of one traffic lane at the section for small passenger vehicles by Dec. 31 and hopes to make the section accessible to motor vehicles weighing less than 20 tonnes before the Lunar New Year holiday next year.
Hsiao urged the Ministry of Transportation and Communication (MOTC) to repair the highway as soon as possible and to consider her proposal of establishing a sea-lane transportation route along the east coast that would resolve the decades-long traffic issue, because traffic in the region is facing a five-year “dark period” before a new highway is completed in 2017.
A ferry could carry up to 350 sedans or 33 buses, Hsiao said, adding that her proposal is achievable because the Shipping Act (航業法) allows the MOTC to compensate vessel carriers on specific routes.
The MOTC should take this issue seriously, he said, because it is hard for government officials or the people of western Taiwan to imagine the misery caused for Hualien and Taitung residents.
“They have to try to book [train and flight] tickets online at midnight — more often than not, they fail to get any,” Liu said.
Liang Ching-cheng (梁清政), chairman of the Promised Land Resort (理想大地) association, said he has run tourism businesses in Hualien for 30 years and traffic “has been a nightmare for decades,” with railway tickets in limited supply and the coastal highway often being closed because of landslides.
The issue has not only affected the tourism business, but also residents’ livelihood and safety, he said.