Fri, Mar 16, 2018 - Page 3 News List

Highway No. 9 should not allow buses yet: minister

LIVES AT RISK:The Minister of Transportation and Communications said that motorists need time to get used to driving in the long tunnels along the route

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan, left, and Tourism Bureau Director-General Chou Yung-hui speak at the legislature in Taipei yesterday.

Photo: Liu Hsin-de, Taipei Times

Minister of Transportation and Communications Hochen Tan (賀陳旦) yesterday said that it would be wrong to open up the Suhua Highway (part of Highway No. 9) between Suao (蘇澳) and Hualien City to large passenger buses to boost tourism in Hualien, as such a move would put people’s lives in danger.

The Suhua Highway Improvement Project was launched to improve safety along some of the highway’s dangerous sections, which include the sections between Suao and Dongao (東澳), between Nanao (南澳) and Heping (和平), and between Hejhung (和中) and Dacingshuei (大清水). It involves the construction of long tunnels, bridges, new roads and a traffic control center in Nanao.

The Suao-Dongao section of the Suhua Highway was opened to traffic last month. However, only small passenger vehicles are allowed to enter the section, as the ministry argued that motorists need time to get used to driving in the long tunnels along the route.

The ministry said it would evaluate the possibility of allowing large passenger vehicles to enter the section three to six months after it was opened to small passenger vehicles.

Hochen was scheduled to brief lawmakers about the ministry’s plan to boost tourism in Hualien, which has been flagging since a magnitude 6.0 earthquake shook the area on Feb.6.

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) said that it is the ministry’s policy to encourage people to use public transportation.

However, only allowing small passenger vehicles to access the Suao-Dongao section defeats the purpose of the policy, Cheng said.

As the nation is also trying to boost tourism in Hualien, the section should be opened to large passenger vehicles next month, Cheng said.

Hochen said that the section has three long tunnels and motorists and the Directorate-General of Highways need time to get used to the traffic flow on the improved highway.

Buses carry a large number of of passengers, Hochen said, adding that the ministry would not risk people’s lives and would not open the section for large vehicles earlier than scheduled.

Hochen said that this was also the promise the ministry made to secure approval from the environmental impact assessment committee for the project.

The ministry implemented the same measures when it opened the Baguashan Tunnel and Hsuehshan Tunnels, he added.

The ministry said that it would try to see if the section can be opened for buses within three months, Hochen said.

DPP Legislator Lee Kun-tse (李昆澤) supported the ministry’s position.

Buses were allowed to enter the Hsuehshan Tunnel about 18 months after it was opened for small passenger vehicles, he said.

The ministry has an obligation to protect everyone, Lee added.

Meanwhile, the Tourism Bureau said it would expand a subsidy for tours to Hualien.

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