Mid-Levels link opens after hiccups
By MATHEW LOH
THE much-maligned Mid-Levels escalator is expected to open today, nine months behind schedule and costing more than six times its original estimate.
Described variously as a ''vital transport link'', ''a monstrosity'' and even as a ''stairway to hell'' the total cost to taxpayers for building the world's longest escalator - designed to convey commuters to and from Central - is $270 million.
The original 1987 estimate was $44 million. Three years later, in March 1990, it had risen to $100 million.
However, by the time the contract was let to the Paul Y Construction Company/Sogea joint venture on February 22, 1991, it had rocketed to $205 million with completion scheduled for early this year.
And Richard Garrett, director of Maunsell Consultants Asia - the company which designed the giant people mover - last night confirmed the final cost of building the 800-metre escalator.
''Last-minute teething problems are being ironed but we expect to see the escalator open at some stage [today].
''I haven't got detailed figures but the final cost of the project is about $270 million. However, the additional cost is no fault of the contractors, but is because of difficult conditions encountered underground which were not predicted and therefore not taken into account during cost estimates.
''You never really know what work is required until you dig up the ground. And the extra cost of the project will benefit the community as the additional money was mainly spent on infrastructure not related to the escalator.
''In fact, almost all of the money spent, above the latest cost estimates, was used to improve or replace drains, sewers and other bits of infrastructure,'' Mr Garrett said.
The opening of the Hillside Escalator Link will provide relief to vocal Mid-Levels residents and shopkeepers who claimed its construction wreaked havoc on their lives.
It will also be a relief to government officials and contractors who have been plagued by criticism associated with the project running late and over budget.
Mr Garrett said that despite the problems, he was thrilled to see the project completed.
''I'm always pleased when a job is done and I'm sure opponents of the project will be happy too.
''After opening, we expect there will be a lot of initial use with people using the escalator for the novelty value.
''But after the novelty wears off, we expect a drop in patronage until after a few months the regular pattern of use settles in. By then we are confident about 30,000 people per day will be using the escalator,'' Mr Garrett said.
The Hillside Escalator Link operates as a one-way system - conveying commuters from Mid-Levels to Central between 6 am and 10 am before changing direction between 10 am and 10 pm.
The escalator is also free.
In Central, the escalator starts at the Hang Seng Bank Building on Des Voeux Road near the harbour. It passes through the Central Market, Hollywood Road before reaching the Mid-Levels where it ends on a residential street.
streride takes about 20 minutes and there are 23 exits.