Residents, indigenous villagers and businesspeople disagreed sharply at a forum yesterday on how much traffic is appropriate for Sai Kung.
About 200 people turned up at the meeting, called by the Highways Department to sound out the public on six options for upgrading the two-lane Hiram's Highway. The least costly plan calls for adding hard shoulders and right-hand turn-offs, at a cost of HK$100 million. The most expensive, at HK$6 billion, involves a new tunnel running from Marina Cove to Sai Kung town.
Members of the group Friends of Sai Kung said a bigger road would lead to overdevelopment
'We are not against the improvement of the highway, but does the government have to plough a four-lane highway, which will add congestion on Sundays and holidays?' said its chairwoman, Lui Lai-kuen.
Villagers joined rural body the Heung Yee Kuk in arguing in favour of the economic benefits that better infrastructure would bring.
'The economy of Sai Kung is most important,' said Ma Hing-fung, an executive committee member of the Kuk. He backed proposals to both improve the existing road and the plan for a tunnel.
'The road must be widened. The improvement is for the people who are visiting Sai Kung. We have wonderful islands and green space to showcase to the rest of Hong Kong.'
Safety is another concern, in light of a bus crash in May that killed 18 people and injured 44 others along a part of the highway that had been widened.
'We support the improvement works on the existing two-lane road, but four lanes is not safe,' Ms Lui said. 'With four lanes, there will be speeding cars and trucks overtaking traffic.'
But Lee Sup-cheung, vice-chairman of the Hang Hau Rural Committee, said that without extra lanes the highway could easily be blocked. 'If there is an accident, there is nowhere to go,' said Mr Lee, a minibus driver.
Highways Department deputy project manager Wan Man-Leung said it was important 'to strike a balance and control the traffic while taking into account the people concerned about the environment'.
The government will decide on a plan at the end of the year.