Construction of the long-planned Central-Wan Chai bypass will start by the end of the year, the government announced yesterday. It said the HK$28 billion project, after clearing all its legal obstacles, was approved by the Executive Council on Tuesday and would be submitted to the Legislative Council, to seek funding. But the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, which has mounted a series of legal challenges to the project, warned it would not rule out further legal action unless the government explained clearly why the project was not being co-ordinated with the Sha Tin-to-Central rail link, part of which would follow a similar route. The 4.5km bypass, along the northern shore of Hong Kong Island, consisting mainly of a six-lane tunnel, will involve permanent reclamation of 12.7 hectares of the harbour and temporary reclamation of the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter. The route will go underground at the Rumsey Street flyover near the Two IFC tower, pass Admiralty and the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, emerge near the typhoon shelter and connect to the Island Eastern Corridor. 'There is a compelling need for the bypass to ease the serious traffic congestion along Connaught Road Central, Harcourt Road and Gloucester Road,' a government spokesman said, adding that a journey from Central to Causeway Bay took at least 15 minutes, and much more during peak hours 'If nothing is done, by 2017 the route will take 45 minutes.' A byproduct of the bypass will be a HK$4.6 billion package of developments in northern Wan Chai and North Point on the reclaimed land after construction is completed. Most of the land along the waterfront would be developed into a public promenade, the spokesman said, and would join the new Central harbourfront, now under construction. To improve pedestrian links between the adjoining land and the waterfront, five footpaths, a footbridge and three landscaped decks would be built in Wan Chai and North Point. The bypass project was halted last year after a court ruled, in a judicial review sought by the Society for the Protection of the Harbour, that the government had failed to establish 'an overriding public need' for the temporary reclamation work at the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter. The government was then forced to scale down the reclamation size and conduct an extensive public consultation to establish such a need. The amended scope of reclamation was the smallest possible, Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said, adding: 'I hope the project can commence as all disputes are now coming to an end.' But the harbour society's adviser, Winston Chu Ka-sun, said the dispute was not over yet. He said the Sha Tin-to-Central link, now being planned, should share the same tube as the road to avoid further reclamation, and the government owed the public and lawmakers an explanation on why this would not happen. 'Litigation is the last thing I want to do, but if there is no other way, I will do that,' he said. The government spokesman said the rail project was still subject to public consultation and objections, while the bypass could not wait. 'If the railway requires any reclamation in future, it will have to justify the need,' he said, adding that the government had been co-ordinating with the MTR Corp on the design. Democratic Party lawmaker Lee Wing-tat said he basically supported the project but in seeking funding approval the government should communicate with concern groups. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Liberal Party also supported the project.