The National Freeway Bureau yesterday said that downgrading Freeway No. 5 to an expressway was inappropriate because it was built and maintained using money from the Freeway Construction Fund.
The idea of downgrading the freeway was proposed by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chen Ou-po (陳歐珀), who represents Yilan County.
Earlier this month, Minister of Transportation and Communications Yeh Kuang-shih (葉匡時) announced that a “pay-as-you-go” toll system for freeway drivers would be implemented in August or September. Drivers on the north-south freeways would have a 20km toll-free concession, while people driving on the east-west freeways would for now be exempt from paying any tolls, Yeh said, adding that the latter measure would be re-examined after two or three years.
Chen said that freeways No. 1, 3 and 5 are all north-south freeways, but Freeway No. 5 is more like an expressway and cannot be compared with freeways No. 1 and No. 3 in terms of driving speed and road specifications.
He said it was unfair for drivers on Freeway No. 5 to pay the same toll as those on freeways No. 1 and No. 3 when Freeway No. 5 has more than 20km in plain areas.
Chen said the plain section of Freeway No. 5 is the only route connecting the northern and southern areas of Yilan County.
While most counties on the west coast have expressways that serve as alternatives to freeways, Yilan does not, he said.
Chen said the ministry should take into account road users’ convenience when making toll policy.
He said that the county could attract more tourists if Freeway No. 5 was designated an expressway.
In response, the bureau’s chief engineer Wu Mu-fu (吳木富) said that all the freeways are built and designed following the same standards, adding that Freeway No. 5 is the same as sections on freeways No. 1 and No. 3 in terms of road width and the speed limit.
“National freeways are maintained and built using the National Freeway Construction Fund, whose revenue comes from the toll fees collected from all freeway users,” Wu said.
“If a freeway is downgraded to an expressway, the government must reimburse the construction fund for the sum used to build it. The government must also appropriate the budget annually for the maintenance cost of the expressway, which means all the taxpayers, including those who are not using the freeways, must pay for it. That is not fair either,” Wu said.