The air purifying facility in Causeway Bay is one of three at the bypass. Photo: Martin Chan
The air purifying facility in Causeway Bay is one of three at the bypass. Photo: Martin Chan

Hong Kong highways chief defends decision to not reveal partial suspension of damaged air ventilation system at new bypass

  • Director of Highways Jimmy Chan said the department was investigating why seven out of 15 fans had been damaged and mounting bolts had come loose
  • Consultant told Highways Department on March 5 that contractor found the damage about a month after bypass opened to traffic on January 20
Topic |   Transport and logistics

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The air purifying facility in Causeway Bay is one of three at the bypass. Photo: Martin Chan
The air purifying facility in Causeway Bay is one of three at the bypass. Photo: Martin Chan

Hong Kong’s Highways Department has defended its decision to keep the public in the dark for more than a month about the partial suspension of the air purification system – the largest of its type in the world – at the new Central-Wan Chai Bypass, saying it needed time to grasp the situation.

Director of Highways Jimmy Chan Pai-ming said on Wednesday the department was investigating why seven out of 15 fans had been damaged and mounting bolts had come loose at the green ventilation facility near Causeway Bay, one of three such plants along the 4.5km link.

The consultant of the air treatment system, Aecom, told the department on March 5 that the contractor, a Leighton Asia-led joint venture, found the damage about a month after the bypass
opened to traffic
on January 20.
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As a result of the defects and for safety reasons, the operation of the air purification system and ventilation building has been suspended since the end of February.

The Central-Wan Chai Bypass opened in January. Photo: Nora Tam
The Central-Wan Chai Bypass opened in January. Photo: Nora Tam

“We did not cover up the issue,” Chan said a day after the department divulged the information. “We needed to study the scope of the issue and the extent of the damage to the fans … we also needed to gauge the air quality, which takes time.”

The much-trumpeted HK$250 million (US$32 million) air purification system is a highlight of the HK$36 billion bypass, a short cut between North Point and Central that took almost 10 years to build and includes a 3.7km tunnel and a flyover.

When we have the results of the investigation, we will take the necessary action and follow up with the parties concerned Jimmy Chan, highways director

The tunnel’s air purification system – the first in Hong Kong and the largest of its kind in the world in terms of the air volume handled – can remove at least 80 per cent of harmful suspended particulates and nitrogen dioxide, two key roadside pollutants.

Although the Causeway Bay one was not operating, the other two facilities in Central and Wan Chai worked properly and the overall air quality did not show any signs of deterioration, Chan said.

“It is not a very common situation and that is why we are carrying out a detailed investigation to find out the cause of the problem, what led to the damage to the ventilation fans,” he said. “When we have the results of the investigation, we will take the necessary action and follow up with the parties concerned.”

Chan added the system remained at a trial stage, which meant the contractor would foot the bill on any maintenance costs.

Jimmy Chan says the contractor will foot the bill on any maintenance costs. Photo: Edmond So
Jimmy Chan says the contractor will foot the bill on any maintenance costs. Photo: Edmond So

Stephen Ng Kam-chun, chairman of Wan Chai District Council, said it was “not ideal” that the government did not reveal the issue until Tuesday.

“It could have done better in notifying the public,” he said.

He urged the government to consider whether Leighton should be granted contracts in future in light of the
MTR Corporation
’s troubled Sha Tin-Central rail link, on which the company was a contractor.

“Why does the air treatment system and the other two ventilation buildings work properly but not the one in Causeway Bay? Did the installation process go wrong?” he asked. “I have lost confidence in Leighton.”

World Green Organisation CEO William Yu Yuen-ping urged the government not only to investigate the reasons for the damage, but also to prevent it from happening again at any of the ventilation facilities.

“I am surprised that it happened in the early days of operation,” he said.

Repairs were under way and some components had been imported, Chan said.

“We hope the maintenance work will be completed by the end of April,” he said.

Leighton declined to comment while the Post reached out to Aecom.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Row over responsibility for damaged bypass air purifier