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MOTC to scrap Suhua freeway project James

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) decided not to carry out the controversial Suao-Hualien (Suhua) freeway project and will, instead, build a new mountain highway available with both short and long tunnels.

The MOTC made the decision at a Tuesday meeting after completing discussions on five proposals raised by the Directorate General of Highways (DGH) under the MOTC to offer a safer transport artery for people in the eastern county of Hualien.

During the meeting, the MOTC resolved to drop the No. 1 (the cheapest proposal,) the No. 4 (the second-most expensive proposal,) and the No. 5 (the most expensive proposal,) and adopt a combination of the No. 2 and No. 3 proposals.

According to the feasibility studies conducted by the

DGH, the cheapest proposal is to improve the dangerous sections of the existing Suhua highway, with the improvements expected to cost NT$1.85 billion within a period of five years.

By contrast, the most expensive proposal is to build a Suhua freeway, which will take at least eight years to complete at a total cost of NT$90 billion. The second-most expensive is to build a new mountain highway featuring long-distance two-way channels each with two lanes, at a cost of NT$80 billion.

After dropping these three proposals, the MOTC will adopt a combination of the No. 2 and No. 3 proposals.

The No. 2 proposal calls for a total construction cost of NT$20 billion, which will feature a short-distance single tunnel with two lanes inside, at the original Suhua highway road sections that are apt to collapse.

The No. 3 proposal calls for the construction of a new 'mountain' highway with two-way channels each with only one lane inside. The total cost will be around NT$70 billion.

MOTC officials said the government will move to complete an evaluation of the environmental impact of the No. 2 and No. 3 proposals within the next six months, and will kick off construction of the new mountain highway by the end of 2010. They added that the new highway is likely to be upgraded to an expressway in the future.

In response to the MOTC decision, a village leader of the Hualien City said the decision is an acceptable, if not a satisfactory one. He hoped the government would kick off the construction project as soon as possible.

A transportation professor at the National Chiao Tung University said that building of a new mountain highway is a compromise, given the serious impact of the controversial Suhua freeway on the natural environment of the eastern county.

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