Minister of Transportation and Communications Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國) yesterday said the ministry intended to budget NT$15 million (US$484,000) next year to conduct an assessment on building an expressway connecting Hualien and Taitung.
Mao made the announcement at a meeting of the legislature’s Transportation Committee during a review of the budget plans for Taoyuan International Airport Corp.
However, lawmakers at the committee were more focused on how the ministry intends to address transportation issues for residents along the east coast than they were on the airport company.
Mao said that the assessment would examine the viability of an expressway project from technological, financial, environmental and other perspectives.
He said the proposed expressway and the Suhua Highway would form an expressway system for the east coast.
“Whether we can push for such a major construction depends on whether we can overcome environmental and financial issues,” Mao said.
The Directorate General of Highways (DGH) launched the Suhua Highway Improvement Project last year to improve road conditions in some of the bottleneck sections on the highway.
The project is scheduled to be completed in 2017.
Mao said the government has also been working on electrifying the railway connecting Hualien and Taitung since 2008 to reinforce transportation infrastructure in the east coast.
The cost for all the projects currently in progress surpasses NT$130 billion, he said.
Mao also said the investment in transportation infrastructure on the east coast would exceed NT$200 billion if one includes the direct railway between Taipei and Yilan as well as other projects, which have yet to be launched.
The Directorate General of Highways estimated the cost of the proposed Hualien to Taitung expressway could exceed NT$100 billion.
DGH Director General Wu Meng-feng (吳盟分) said highways 9 and 11 are the two main roads connecting Hualien and Taitung, and the travel time is between three and four hours.
He said that traffic on a normal weekday only usually accounts for about 20 percent of the highway’s designed capacity.
However, congestion at some sections of the highway may occur at the Lunar New Year holiday or long weekends, he added.
Meanwhile, Mao said that DGH is aiming to reopen the Suhua Highway for all types of vehicles before the Lunar New Year holiday begins next February..
The section between Suao (蘇澳) and Tongao (東澳) became inaccessible this month after a part of the road collapsed due to heavy rain.
Mao said that DGH is changing its construction methods, which it hopes would facilitate the reconstruction efforts.