Buying back tunnels is fiddling at the margins of traffic gridlock

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 November, 2010, 12:00am

The odd conclusion in the study to resolve the traffic distribution among the three harbour crossings is that buying back the two privately owned tunnels should be discussed after 2017 when the Central-Wan Chai bypass is ready and the eastern tunnel is returned to the government ('Consultant offers nine scenarios to ease traffic', November 4).

The use of the Western Harbour Tunnel is lagging due to the lack of connecting roads, and it is claimed that specifically the Central-Wan Chai bypass is needed first to provide the necessary capacity.

Let us assume that the cost of the buy-back reflects the use of the tunnel - that is, it is cheaper to buy a poorly used tunnel than it is to buy a heavily used tunnel.

Should we negotiate only after we have improved the use of the tunnel by opening the bypass, or should we close a deal soon, before the traffic starts to flow? As for the Eastern Harbour Tunnel, there is obviously no need to discuss a buy-back, as it will become public property soon.

These are odd conclusions to come from the consultancy firm Wilbur Smith Associates, and I wonder how much editing was undertaken by the administration, which is keen to procrastinate when it comes to facing the tough jobs.

Having said all that, none of this really matters and is mere fiddling in the margins when it comes to improving traffic.

Traffic jams along the north shore of Hong Kong Island are the result of traffic queueing to enter the built-up areas of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Mid-Levels, Central and Sheung Wan.

There is no political will to put the systems in place to control development to a sustainable level. Our process of traffic impact assessment is a bad joke upon us all.

The TIA for Times Square was accepted and the development approved.

It is now the major obstacle in terms of traffic flow in Causeway Bay.

The TIA system merely confirms where to put the car park entrance for a new building; it does not help balance development and overall traffic capacity.

What is worse, the government is actively promoting new developments.

Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his speech to the chambers of commerce on Wednesday put down anyone objecting to the sale of the west wing on Government Hill as politicians who want more green grass to raise cattle in Central.

The failure to balance permitted development, urban renewal and land sales with road capacity is resulting in increasingly volatile changes in traffic flows as we near total gridlock. And there are no obvious solutions - tunnels to buy or new roads to build - which can resolve this.

Or is it Mr Tsang's plan that we all stay home and rear cows in the future?

Paul Zimmerman, chief executive officer, Designing Hong Kong Limited