Tunnel buyback still one option to beat unequal use of crossings

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 October, 2010, 12:00am

Buying back either of the two private cross-harbour tunnels from their operators remained an option to be considered by the government, the transport minister said yesterday.

A consultancy study to identify measures to improve traffic distribution between the three tunnels - the government-owned Cross Harbour Tunnel, the Western Harbour Crossing and the Eastern Harbour Crossing, whose operator has applied for a 40 per cent rise in tolls next year - was submitted to the government last month. Long traffic jams build up at both ends of the Cross Harbour Tunnel because its tolls are much lower than those for the other crossings.

The study evaluated the feasibility of different measures including buying the tunnels, Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng told lawmakers yesterday.

'We'll have to see the difficulty in implementation of the plan. Of course we can consider buying back the tunnels, but as I told the media earlier, we'll have to see if the price is a reasonable one or not,' she said.

Apart from the money involved, the government would also take the capacity of the connecting road network of each crossing into consideration.

She said a traffic bottleneck could develop elsewhere if the capacity of the associated infrastructure was insufficient.

The Western Harbour Crossing's surrounding road network wasn't mature, she said, and the Central-Wan Chai Bypass wouldn't be ready for several years. It is scheduled for completion in 2017.

Cheng said the government had no plans to build another cross harbour tunnel for cars. The MTR's planned Sha Tin-Central railway could also take passengers across the harbour, she said. Instead of taking their cars through the tunnels, people should take public transport.

The bureau will announce details of the consultancy report next month before it consults the public.

Raising the tolls for the Cross Harbour Tunnel and persuading operators of the other two tunnels to cut their tolls was another option considered by the government, people familiar with the report said.