Lawmakers on the Legislative Yuan’s Transport and Communications Committee yesterday passed a resolution asking the Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) to re-evaluate the feasibility of building an expressway to connect Hualien and Taitung counties.
The committee was scheduled yesterday to continue reviewing drafts of two special statutes, one regarding the construction of a Hualien-Taitung expressway and the other regarding the the Suhua Highway improvement project (part of Highway No. 9).
The first question-and-answer session on the two drafts was held in 2016, but lawmakers at the time never got to review the articles line by line.
Photo: Peter Lo, Taipei Times
In briefings on the draft statutes yesterday, the ministry told lawmakers that high construction costs and little economic benefit continue to make a Hualien-Taitung expressway infeasible, as in 2016, while the Suhua-Highway improvement project does not require a special statute.
There was support across the aisle for the projects, but Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators disagreed on how the budget should be appropriated.
KMT Legislator Sra Kacaw (鄭天財) said that a special statute is needed to ensure that infrastructure on the east coast keeps pace with that on the west coast.
The government has already set a precedent by stipulating special statutes to manage Taoyuan’s Shihmen Reservoir (石門水庫), Chiayi County’s Tsengwen Reservoir (曾文水庫) and other public facilities, he added.
A statute does not need to be stipulated for a local transportation project, DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said.
“Using your [Sra Kacaw’s] logic, as I represent districts in Tainan, I should propose a special statute governing the extension of Highway No. 37 to Tainan’s Sinying (新營) district,” Yeh said. “Others would follow suit once you set the precedent.”
DPP Legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), who represents districts in Hualien, said that the ministry has begun widening the section on Highway No. 9 between Guangfu (光復) and Fuli (富里) townships.
The most important thing is that the government ensure that the project is sufficiently funded, she said, adding that there could always be further discussion regarding allocation increases.
“The Hualien-Taitung expressway project was deemed infeasible during former President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration, which began a feasibility study for the project in 2013. Six years have passed since then and a lot of things have changed, from people’s needs to traffic. I suggest that the ministry re-evaluate the project,” Hsiao said.
DPP Legislator Liu Chao-hao (劉櫂豪), who represents districts in Taitung, agreed that the ministry should redo the feasibility study, saying that economic benefit should not be the only factor considered.
Presiding over the meeting, KMT Legislator Chen Hsueh-sheng (陳雪生) ruled that legislators should negotiate further in a party caucus meeting.
A resolution was passed that asked the ministry to reactivate the procedures required for conducting a feasibility study on the expressway project.
The ministry would redo the feasibility study as requested, Deputy Minister of Transportation and Communications Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材) said.
According to the Directorate-General of Highways, the proposed expressway would run from Hualien’s Jian Township (吉安) to downtown Taitung, a distance of 148.5km.
The highway authority conducted a feasibility study on the project from July 2013 to June 2016. After a review, the ministry shelved the project on June 22, 2016, because it had a cost-benefit ratio of only 0.53, meaning that it was not economically viable.
The ministry did not consider the expressway to be urgent, as Highway No. 9 would have enough capacity for traffic on the east coast after completion of the Highway No. 9 widening project in 2031, the highway authority said, adding that electrification of the Hualien-Taitung railway line also eased congestion on the highway.
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