The highly anticipated Suhua Highway improvement project achieved a major milestone yesterday when construction of a section of the longest tunnel along the coastal highway was completed.
Finishing the 1.4km section at the center of the southbound section of the 7.9km Kuanyin Tunnel is likely to speed up work in the tunnel, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Communications.
Engineers accessed the center of the tunnel from the side via an old railway tunnel and can now access equipment that can drill to both ends of the tunnel fairly quickly, officials said.
Minister of Transportation and Communications Chen Jian-yu (陳建宇) said the ministry expects to wrap up construction of the southbound section the tunnel in June next year, while the northbound section is due to be completed by the end of this year.
“Upon completion, the tunnel will save one hour of travel time,” Chen said at a ceremony inside the tunnel in Nanao Township (南澳) in Yilan County.
Suhua Highway is the main artery highway connecting southern Yilan County to Hualien County along the east coast.
The Suhua Highway’s winding, narrow roads perched above the Pacific Ocean are the scene of frequent accidents and are especially vulnerable to landslides.
Calls for an upgrade gained urgency in 2010 after torrential rains from Typhoon Megi triggered landslides on the road and killed 26 people.
The 38.8km project, which is aimed at improving road safety and reducing travel time between Suao and Hualien County, is divided into three sections — from Suao to Dongao Township (東澳), from Nanao (南澳) to Heping (和平) townships (which includes the Kuanyin Tunnel), and from Heping to Chingshui.
The road is mostly tunnels that cut through mountainous terrain and replace the Suhua Highway’s most vulnerable stretches.
The project is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
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