Premier criticized for keeping highway open


TAIPEI, Taiwan — Decisions to close roads should be made based on objective standards, said Premier Wu Den-yih yesterday in explaining why the government did not close the Suhua Highway on Oct. 21, when heavy rains triggered lethal landslides on the roadway.

At a legislative hearing yesterday morning, the premier was immediately asked about the government’s approach last Thursday when rains from Typhoon Megi triggered landslides on the road that left one person dead and 25 others missing and feared dead.

“The Suhua Highway often suffers landslides. Why did the government only start managing the road after Typhoon Megi and a weather system from the northeast resulted in deaths?” asked Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Liu Chien-kuo.

The premier replied that when the tour buses that suffered accidents during the storm departed from Sincheng Township in Hualien County between 9:30-10:30 a.m. on Oct. 21, there was only light rain.

Data from the Central Weather Bureau (CWB), he said, showed that less than five millimeters of rain had fallen per hour at the Sincheng weather station from 8-10 a.m. that day, meaning there was no need to keep vehicles off the road.

Rainfall of 50 mm per hour is the current standard for closing roads, according to the Directorate General of Highways.

The premier said the Cabinet has discussed in the past setting up landslide monitors along the highway to provide information that could help authorities decide on road closures.

Other objective indicators that could be used, he said, include hourly rainfall and maximum wind speed data provided by the Central Weather Bureau.

Wu said, however, that some Hualien residents, who rely on the Suhua Highway to head north to Yilan County and Taipei, had objected to the idea, complaining that the major transportation artery should not be closed arbitrarily.

Meanwhile, environmental groups held a press conference at the Legislative Yuan to urge the government to push urgently to expand railway services in the area and develop sea transportation along the country’s eastern coast, which had more predictable time frames than the Suhua Highway project.

They said they did not object to the highway renovation project, which will reinforce some existing road sections and bypass others with tunnels and bridges, but they insisted that the new roads be safe and sustainable and not approved in haste.