Tunnels gridlock warning
By STEVE BALL
THE road tunnels between Kowloon and the New Territories are stretched to their limits, and unless the Government clamps down on the spectacular growth of vehicles in Hong Kong, massive traffic snarls will bring Kowloon to a standstill, an expert warned last night.
A senior government transport analyst, who asked not to be named, said: ''Demand already exceeds capacity. We have massive queues on Gloucester Road for the Cross Harbour Tunnel. If we get the same in Waterloo Road it will cause problems. The roads will be gridlocked.'' Figures from the Transport Department show that from 1991 to September this year traffic through Tate's Cairn, Lion Rock and Shing Mun together increased 14 per cent.
The same figures show the number of cars in Hong Kong has shot up almost twice as fast as expected.
The last time the Department of Transport published a comprehensive study, in 1989, it assumed the number of cars would go up by five per cent a year, reaching 280,000 by 1996.
But that target was demolished in August this year, three years ahead of schedule. Growth has been twice what the government forecast: 10 per cent in 1990, 10 per cent in 1991, and 12 per cent last year. This year looks set to be around 10 per cent again.
But the government analyst said the department was just executing government policy, not setting it. ''All the Transport Department can do is keep the lid on and keep traffic moving, and try to give priority to public transport. The policy comes from theTransport Branch.'' A wide range of options was open to the Government, the source said, from raising tolls and the many kinds of taxes on cars to introducing some kind of road pricing.
The approach roads to the tunnels were getting jammed because of a huge rise in the number of vehicles travelling from the New Territories into Kowloon.
''There is bound to be some kind of delay. The traffic is going from 100 kilometres per hour on the To Lo Highway to one km/h when the drivers have to pay the toll.
''But Hong Kong is a more wealthy society, more well-heeled. Every month the Transport Department is dealing with hundreds of applications for access roads to new developments.
In many places the single storey New Territory village houses were being replaced by three storey haciendas with many households owning several vehicles.
Tate's Cairn Tunnel had brought only temporary relief, the source said. The tunnel was designed to relieve congestion but it had proved too successful.
''It's running at capacity now, years earlier than was anticipated.
''It took traffic away from the others, but if you add the figures from all the tunnels together you'll find that overall there was a tremendous growth. That was suppressed demand coming out on to the roads.'' Traffic going through Lion Rock faces delays until well into 1995 because of engineering works just north of the tunnel.
But chief traffic engineer for New Territories East Tony Elliot maintained that everything possible to reduce delays had been done. ''The tidal flow system we introduced is working well.''