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Taiwan: Transport what to where?

Categories: East Asia, Taiwan (ROC), Development, Environment

In the essay on outdoor recreation, ‘Conservation Esthetic,’ Professor Leopold wrote, ‘Recreational development is a job not of building roads into the lovely country, but of building receptivity into the still unlovely human mind.’

The total area of Taiwan is about 36,000 sq. km, and mountains account for 30% of the surface area. The Central Mountain Range has been an important barrier stretching from north to south. It stops typhoons approaching from Pacific Ocean going to the western plains and stops western invaders from going to the eastern areas. Ever since Taiwan was colonized by China and Japan, transportation between the east and the west has played a critical role in the local community development, government control, and natural resource depredation.

For example, after the Mudanshe Incident in 1871, Chinese government implemented the ‘Kai Shan Fu Fan’ policy, to go into the mountains and the east. After Japan took over Taiwan in 1895, Japanese government built not only railways in the western plains but also roads and railways [1] to the eastern areas. After world war II, Kuomintang [2] took over the regime from Japan, and three cross-island highways were built and a circular railway around Taiwan was finished.

These days, Taiwanese have been discussing three important transportation projects: Taiwan High Speed Rail [3] (finished), Taipei-Yilan Freeway [4] (finished), and Yilan-Hualian freeway (decision not final yet).

For decades, Taiwan's economic growth mainly focuses on the western plains, and there has been pressure to have more efficient transportation from western plains to eastern areas for a long time. And, nowadays, people ask not only ‘highway’, but ‘super-highway’ or ‘high-speed rail,’ so that Taiwanese can travel back and forth to anywhere in Taiwan in one day.

Blackcat [5] said,


when the transportation becomes faster and more efficient, the map of Taiwan in my mind seems to get smaller and smaller.

Chieftain [6] also said,


I would probably take the High Speed Rail more often in the future; from where I am located, taking the high speed rail is a better choice, comparing to taking the plane. More, if I took airplane, I would come out from Sung Shan Airport, and the transportation from the airport is more expensive and less convenience than from the train station.

Thanks to the modern technology, our dreams have chance to come true. For example, Taiwan's Hsuehshan tunnel [7], world's fifth longest tunnel, probably one of the top most difficult projects to complete in the world. It penetrates into Hseuhshan, the largest mountain in northern Taiwan; the project took 15 years, one tunnel boring machine, and (based on Veterans affairs commission [8]) thirteen workers’ life (seven Thai people and six Taiwanese), and resulted in severe injury of three Taiwanese workers. Discovery produced a movie about the story: Man made marvels. Taiwan's Hsuehshan tunnel [9].

Wisely [10] said,


it takes only 40 minutes to go to Yilan from Taipei now, and it was 2.5 hrs in the past. For many people working in Taipei or people who want to spend their vacation in Yilan, it is much more convenient now. For us who work in another city, this freeway is full of convenience and efficiency. If I owned a car in the future, I could visit my parents more often in Yilan, and my schedule would not have to be based on the train schedule.’

Children's mind [11] said,


it is too arbitrary to say that man will triumph over nature. These words underestimate nature's force. However, it is our knowledge and will that contributes to the tunnel birth.

Although many people embrace the efficient transportation happily, more and more Taiwanese question the necessity of building roads, especially when the disturbance to the environment is obvious.

When Hsuehshan tunnel was under construction, lots of water inside the geology structure was lost, which increased the difficulty in constructing the tunnel. After the tunnel is open, there is still water loss everyday. Based on Ministry of transportation and communications Taiwan area national expressway engineering bureau [12], 36 m3 water is lost every minute. Although based on the same bureau, the amount lost is not particular significant compared to the tunnels in Japan. More, based on Chun-Hung Huang's report [13], the water lost is not related to the amount of water flowing into the reservoirs. Even so, people are still worried about the possibility of the water resource shortage as a result of tunnel construction in the future.

Ke-Hsiang Liu [14] said,


lots of underground water is disappearing, where does the water come from? After losing the water, we don’t know if the mountains and the surrounding forest could still store abundant water. We do not know if the local climate (rainfall) would still be the same. And, based on our current scientific knowledge, no one could predict the severity of the outcome, and an exact answer might still not be feasible in the near future.

Momoge [15] discussed about the mindset of people making decision for these constructions:


if the mindset behind the public projects leans toward the business/ economic development, then there would be Yilan Hualian freeway, and Hualian Taitung freeway would come shortly; if the mindset leans toward nature, then there would not be highways, rather, the focus would be on reinforcing the current highway structure, to prevent further destruction, and probably even try to reverse the existed destruction. Now the proposal of Yilan Hualian freeway is out there. This is terrible, as ‘the internal decision’ is made. However, the construction has not started yet, and there is still possibility to reverse the decision.

一封花蓮孩子的公開信 [16]

A letter from people in Hualian [16]

過去的開發建設或許讓我們經濟起飛,但也讓我們經歷了許多大自然回報的慘痛代價,更何況要以高速公路帶動經濟的方式已經過於老舊,也有許多實例證明高速公路不等於經濟發展;另外一些人認為花蓮需要方便的交通,但我們認為高速公路絕對不是唯一的方式,科技進步,有更多元的方式可以 增加來到花蓮的便捷性,別讓大公路主義貫徹整個台灣。最重要的,蘇花高這樣的建設具有不可恢復性,當開工後,所造成的破壞將無法彌補回來,縱使再厲害的生態工法,還是要開隧道、建馬路,沒有人可以預估對土地造成多大的傷害。

The constructions we had before may be the reason for our economic growth, but it is also the reason for the price we pay for many natural disasters. Furthermore, relying on highway for economic growth is an old strategy, many examples proves that highway development is not equal to economic development. Some people believe Hualian needs a more convenient transportation, but we believe that building highways is not the only choice. With technology advances, there are many alternatives to improve the convenience and the efficiency to come to Hualien. There is no need to let ‘highwayism’ spread all over Taiwan. Most importantly, the damage to building Yilan Hualian freeway is irreversible. Once the construction starts, regardless of the advancement in our construction methodologies, the destruction can’t be repaired and no one could predict the severity made to our land.

When many people cosign to fight against the freeway constructions, Yenwen [17] has different point of view:


when human right and environmentalism start to get more attention in our society, more people start to support public topics. Perhaps they feel supporting these topics is the right thing to do, an ethical thing to do, it is a way to show self-quality improvement. But, I can’t stop asking:
when you cosign for the public issues, do you have the ability to distinguish the legitimacy of their proposal? Do you understand the government’s policy? Has Taiwan progressed enough that we can afford to have culture and environment playing more important roles than economic growth? Do you have better proposal?

Well, these are tough questions. But maybe Taiwan Railway Administration tries to answer the last one. There will be Taroko Train running between Taipei and Hualian starting May of 2007. Based on Introductions of trains in Taiwan [18], the reason to use this kind of trains is to solve the problems for the curves in the railways between Taipei and Yilan, and to minimize the commute to be within 2 hours.

To get to the bottom of the questions, we still want to ask, ‘transport what to where?’ If we have a lot of roads, what do we plan to do next? Leopold said, we should open our heart, to be closer to the nature. Then, if we have a lot of money, what do we want to do next? Perhaps, we want to live a more meaningful and happier life, and then our offsprings can live a happier and more meaningful life.

Mentioned in 2:30AM's blog [19], Tzu Chi's leader, Dharma Master Cheng Yen said in a TV show,


Taiwan is small, but we build more and more highways. A place like this, how much destruction to the mountains we may make, how many lumbers we may cut down, and how much water resource we may lose to build the highways? We do not know!…I can only ask all of us to abnegate our desire and preserve proprieties. If we want to save the earth, we need to plant instead of destruction. The roads are enough for us.