Tue, May 03, 2016 - Page 4 News List

Fu leads Hualien rally against new transport chief

Staff writer, with CNA

Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi, holding microphone, and his former wife, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator-at-large Hsu Chen-wei, front row fifth left, lead a group of Hualien government officials and residents to deliver the message “Hualien and Taitung residents are not second-class citizens” at a “Save the Suhua Highway improvement project” press event held yesterday in Hualien County.

Photo: Wang Chun-chi, Taipei Times

Hualien County Commissioner Fu Kun-chi (傅崑萁) yesterday urged president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to withdraw Hochen Tan’s (賀陳旦) appointment as minister of transportation and communications following his perceived opposition to “traffic improvement projects for Hualien.”

“Hualien residents are not second-class citizens. We just want a safe way home,” Fu said, while leading more than 100 councilors, borough wardens and civic group representatives in a protest outside the county government’s offices.

Saying that Hualien’s transportation infrastructure development already lags lagged behind that of the rest of the country, the protesters criticized comments by Hochen opposing adding a tunnel between Dongao (東澳) and Nanao (南澳) as part of the Suhua Highway improvement project.

“It is extremely difficult to get a ticket for trains to Hualien, and the Suhua Highway, the major road linking Hualien to the outside world, is so patchy,” he said.

He asked the incoming Tsai administration “whether other major traffic amelioration plans for Hualien would also be put on hold.”

“We ask that the incoming Tsai government pay full attention to the issue,” he said. “Otherwise, we will not rule out besieging the Presidential Office after May 20,” when Tsai and other Cabinet members are to be sworn in.

The picturesque Suhua Highway, known for its narrow, windy roads carved into cliffs perched above the Pacific Ocean, is the only roadway connecting southern Yilan County’s Suao (蘇澳) to northern Hualien County.

The 118km highway is particularly vulnerable to landslides and is often shut down during typhoons or periods of heavy rain.

To improve road reliability and safety, the government launched a project in 2011 to upgrade the highway by building three new road sections consisting mostly of tunnels and bridges between Suao and Dongao, Nanao and Heping (和平), and Hejhong (和中) to Hualien’s Dacingshuei (大清水).

There has also been talk of further bypassing the existing highway and improving traffic safety by adding a tunnel between Dongao and Nanao in Yilan County.

In an interview with the Chinese-language China Times published on Saturday, Hochen opposed the idea, saying that gravel trucks speeding on Suhua Highway, not the conditions of the roads, are the main culprit behind the many fatal accidents that have occurred.

“The key is to examine whether Hualien should continue to have a cement industry, instead of spending billions of New Taiwan dollars building a tunnel,” he said.

He also voiced his opposition to a proposed direct rail route between Taipei and Yilan that would cut travel time to all of eastern Taiwan.

His comments sparked concern among Hualien residents, who fear that other major traffic improvements plans for the area, including the Huatung Expressway project and a three-line rail project for eastern Taiwan, might also be suspended.

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