TAIPEI (CNA) – The government’s NT$52.88 billion (US$1.7 billion) project to improve the Suhua Highway along Taiwan’s rugged east coast is expected to open before the 2020 Lunar New Year, the Directorate General of Highways (DGH) under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications said Tuesday.

According to the DGH, the new sections of the highway will run from Su’ao to Dong’ao in Yilan County, from Nan’ao in Yilan to Heping in Hualien County and from Hezhong to Daqingshui in Hualien, covering a total of 38.8 kilometers.

The Su’ao to Dong’ao stretch opened Feb. 5 last year and the remaining two sections are slated to be completed by the end of this year, the agency said.

The highway includes eight tunnels with a total combined length of 23.8 km, bridge sections constituting a total length of 8.5 km and a 6.5 km-long stretch of highway, said the DGH.

The improvements are expected to boost tourism in Yilan and Hualien counties, and to improve road safety and reduce travel times, the agency added.

However, the much-anticipated project, which was initially set to be completed in 2017, was postponed due to the discovery of an archaeological site, as well as typhoon-triggered landslides.

Furthermore, repairing safety passageways inside the existing tunnels and creating additional emergency passageways also led to delays and increased the initial budget of NT$49.2 billion to NT$52.88 billion.

The highway is the main artery connecting Yilan County and Hualien County, but the winding, narrow road perched above the Pacific Ocean is the scene of frequent accidents and is especially vulnerable to landslides.

Calls for an upgrade gained urgency in 2010 after torrential rain brought by Typhoon Megi triggered lethal landslides on the road, killing 26 people.

By Wang Shu-fen, Christie Chen and Chung Yu-chen