Experts, pundits critical of Han’s road-building vow

NOT NEW IDEAS::Nantou County’s commissioner said that he had proposed extending the Shuishalian Freeway several years ago, but experts told him it was not feasible

By Shelley Shan  /  Staff reporter

Mon, Jun 10, 2019 - Page 3

Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu’s (韓國瑜) pledge to extend the Shuishalian Freeway (Freeway No. 6) to Hualien County and to complete the around-the-island freeway system if elected president next year has met with criticism from government officials and political pundits who said one of the ideas is not feasible.

Han made the pledge at a rally on Saturday in Hualien County organized by his supporters, where he formally announced his entry to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential primary.

Once elected, he would approve the second phase of the Suhua Highway Improvement Project, extend Freeway No. 6 from Nantou County to Hualien County, to facilitate transportation between Taichung and Hualien and complete the around-the-island freeway system, Han told the crowd.

However, Nantou County Commissioner Lin Ming-chen (林明溱), a KMT member, said that he had studied the possibility of extending the Freeway No. 6 from Nantou to Hualien when he was a legislator representing the county, but he stopped pursuing the idea after consulting with experts.

Lin said he had suggested extending the freeway from Nantou’s Puli Township (埔里) to its Wushe Township (霧社) and then to Hualien’s Hsiulin Township (秀林), a distance of about 30km.

“Experts said building such an extension would require construction workers to drill a tunnel through the Central Mountain Range, where they would encounter fault lines and high temperatures caused by geothermal energy, and the construction would not be feasible from a technical perspective,” Lin said.

Building the extension as an overpass would not be easier or safer, as the pier foundations for such an overpass would have to be built on geologically unstable terrain, and therefore would need to be able to withstand earthquakes, Lin said.

Political commentator Huang Chuan-hsia (黃創夏) wrote on Facebook that Han should not casually make campaign promises.

The nation lost 212 veterans working as laborers during construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway and 25 workers while building the Hsuehshan Tunnel, he said.

“Now Han wants to extend Freeway No. 6 from Puli to Hualien by drilling through the Central Mountain Range. Can he guarantee that he could overcome all the challenges during the construction?” Huang wrote.

People’s lives matter, he added.

Freeway Bureau Director-General Chao Hsin-hua (趙興華) said that between 2010 and 2013, the government assessed the possibility of building the kind of extension route that Han proposed, but determined that the project would be unfeasible because the workers would face risks caused by geothermal energy and rock bursts.

The bureau had also assessed the possibility of building the Suhua Freeway and another freeway connecting Pingtung and Taitung counties to complete the around-the-island freeway system, Chao said.

The former was strongly opposed by environmental protection groups and was replaced by the Suhua Highway Improvement Project, and the latter would have proven an impossible task, because it would pass through a nature conservation area in Dawushan (大武山), he added.