Anger as bill for Central-Wan Chai Bypass goes up HK$8b to HK$36b

Lawmakers hit out at government's 'staggering' demand for more cash to cover unexpected costs of controversial Central-Wan Chai project

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 4:53am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 4:42pm

A "staggering" government request for almost HK$8 billion in extra funding for a controversial road scheme has shocked lawmakers, who fear that the HK$36 billion bill will grow even further.

The Transport and Housing Bureau is seeking the extra cash for the Central-Wan Chai Bypass and its link to the Island East Corridor. In a paper for the Legislative Council's transport panel, the bureau cites unexpected costs related to tunnel building and higher-than-anticipated increases in labour and material prices as the reasons it needs an extra HK$7.93 billion.

The panel will discuss the request - an increase of more than 28 per cent on the original HK$28 billion bill - on Friday.

Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Tang Ka-piu, a member of the panel, said he was shocked by the request.

"It is staggering that the government is asking for so much more," he said. "The project won't be finished for a few years. I am concerned the bureau will come again and ask for more money in the future."

Panel vice-chairman Gary Fan Kwok-wai asked: "Did the government deliberately underestimate the cost in order to get Legco to pass it?"

The project was approached by Legco's finance committee in 2009 after a decade of objections and legal challenges from environmentalists, and the Highways Department began construction the same year. Work is due to be completed in 2017.

The 4.5-kilometre road is intended to ease congestion on Gloucester Road, Harcourt Road and Connaught Road Central. It includes a 3.7-kilometre tunnel.

The bureau told lawmakers that the geotechnical conditions on the route of the tunnel were more challenging than initial studies had shown.

"The bedrock profile varied significantly from location to location and was generally deeper than those envisaged at the design stage," the paper said.

The bureau also said bigger than expected fluctuations in labour and material costs would mean higher contractors' fees.

"The government is saying it needs more money because it has not done its geotechnical study properly. What about the other projects?" Tang said, citing the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge as another project that could end up costing more if geotechnical studies were wrong.

The bypass plan was condemned by green groups because it involved the reclamation of 12.7 hectares of Victoria Harbour. More recently, work on a slip road linked to the development that cuts through Victoria Park angered park users.