Breakdown of cash for roads urged
A SIGNIFICANT slice of the $9 billion promised for new roads next year will go to airport core projects, sparking calls for an exact breakdown of how the money will be spent.
A senior Transport Branch official confirmed the $9-billion figure - a key point in the infrastructure section of Mr Patten's speech - included work next year on at least four airport projects.
As well as the $9-billion pledge, Mr Patten promised another $2 billion over the next four years for anti-congestion measures. He also acknowledged new rail links to the border and Tseung Kwan O for the start of next century as ''high priorities''.
However, the official said airport work would eat up a ''significant'' chunk of the $9 billion - double the amount spent on roads last year - but exact figures were not yet available.
Part of the $9 billion will be spent on the North Lantau Expressway, the Lantau Fixed Crossing, the Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi sections of Route 3 and the West Kowloon Expressway, the Post has learned.
The branch official said the transport-related airport projects were needed regardless of the airport to free Hong Kong's roads, now grappling with 270 vehicles for every kilometre.
It will also fund non-airport projects including the Ting Kau Bridge - a priority of Mr Patten's, linking the congested north Tsing Yi to the New Territories - and the Yuen Long southern bypass and the widening of the Lung Cheung and Ching Cheung roads.
In his speech, Mr Patten said the Government was responding to concerns with ''an extensive road building programme to relieve these miseries''.
He said: ''Traffic densities at Hong Kong's levels can be extremely harmful to our environment, our economy and our well-being.
''Our No 1 priority has to be to keep traffic moving, to make the road system as user-friendly as possible.'' In a key development, Mr Patten announced that work was due to start on the Ting Kau Bridge next year to be completed in mid-1997, freeing much of Kwai Chung - while its links to the New Territories, the Tai Lam Tunnel and the Yuen Long approach road - are due for completion in 1998.
The bridge will be built by the Government under the public works programme with tender arrangements to be announced next week. The tunnel and its approach will be a private sector franchise deal, operating on a toll system.
It is understood China has yet to give its approval to the projects forming the bulk of Route 3 - the long-awaited road to the border at Lok Ma Chau, linking Yuen Long and northern Tuen Mun directly to Tsing Yi.
The route is geared to easing current strains on the Tuen Mun Highway long-term, while, short-term, Mr Patten promised four more climbing lanes, new hi-tech signals and cameras to help clear breakdowns more quickly.
He also promised traffic control computers in more than 550 junctions in Kowloon and the New Territories and tougher controls on road excavation, now being studied by top officials of the Transport and Works branches.
His speech also contained the strongest government emphasis yet on the heavy rail link to the border and new Mass Transit link to the east of Kowloon.
Phil Taylor, chief executive of the Automobile Association, said he would need to see detailed breakdowns before he could say the speech was anything than a ''distortion'' which would lead to few real improvements for road users.
''I really don't see anything other than the normal Hong Kong Government reaction lagging far behind what's actually going on . . . just more emphasis on these grandiose schemes in place of solid policy for the urban areas.
''His comments certainly lack specifics and I think a solid list of figures are deserved,'' he said.
His comments were echoed by Dr Victor Sit Fung-shuen, reader in geography at Hong Kong University, who feared taxpayers were becoming victims of the lack of long-term strategy, increasingly subsidising the badly-managed rise in container traffic.
Spokesmen for both the Mass Transit Railway Corporation and the Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation described the comments as ''encouraging''.
Secretary of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers John Boyd said he was heartened by the news of a new freight line to the border for early next century.