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Hong Kong gov’t sends controversial harbour tunnel plan back to lawmakers, but toll hikes remain unchanged

The government has revived a previously abandoned plan to adjust the tolls at Hong Kong’s three cross-harbour tunnels. The proposal is to be discussed at the legislature on March 27.

Last month, the government had to pull a motion from the legislature’s agenda because it did not receive enough support from lawmakers; they criticised the toll increases at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and Eastern Harbour Crossing as being too high.

But on Friday the government proposed the same plan again with new supplementary measures.

Cross-Harbour Tunnel congestion

Cross-Harbour Tunnel congestion. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/WiNG.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan said that, after the Central-Wan Chai Bypass was fully opened, traffic at the bottleneck of the Western Harbour Crossing in Central has improved, and thus there was still unused capacity at the tunnel.

“We have shown our best sincerity, to grab the opportunity to implement the three tunnels diversion plan, to use the unused capacity effectively, to shorten people’s driving time. I urge the community and lawmakers to consider Hong Kong’s interests,” he said.

‘Smart traffic fund’

The original plan to alleviate cross-harbour traffic congestion, set to be enacted in 2020, would see fares for private cars at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Harbour Crossing rise from HK$20 and HK$25 to HK$40. Meanwhile, tolls for private cars at the Western Harbour Crossing would be reduced from HK$70 to HK$50.

The government’s latest version on Friday added two new measures. It promised to conduct a review after it takes back control of the Western Harbour Crossing in 2023.

The government will also set up a new “smart traffic fund” to give back the HK$900 million to be earned until 2023 from the toll increase at the Cross-Harbour Tunnel and the Eastern Harbour Crossing to the public. The government runs the two tunnels.

Western Harbour Crossing

Western Harbour Crossing. Photo: “Baycrest – Wikipedia user – CC-BY-SA-2.5

When asked why the government had refused to change the toll increase amount, Chan said the figures were a result of computer simulations and analysis on the basis of scientific evidence.

“It was the best proposal for traffic management,” he said, adding that the new supplementary measures were made after listening to the public.

Chan said he would not speculate over the result of the vote but said, if the proposal is voted down by the Legislative Council, the toll adjustment plan will have to be suspended until the Western Harbour Crossing is taken back by the government.

The original proposal, involving a toll decrease at the Western Harbour Crossing was negotiated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Lam personally discussed the deal in Beijing with CITIC group, which is running the tunnel until 2023.

Frank Chan

Frank Chan. File Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said after meeting Chan on Thursday that he would not support the plan, since the public would not accept the toll increase.

He also said the two new supplementary measures were not attractive enough.

“The government should provide different toll adjustment plans for the public to choose from, so that the public, scholars and lawmakers can analyse the different plans, before making a decision,” he said. “The government’s attitude of ‘take it or leave it’ is not acceptable.”

Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker Ben Chan said he was concerned that the government’s plan would create congestion at all three tunnels.

He also called for more details on the proposed smart traffic fund, before making a decision.

Hong Kong gov't sends controversial harbour tunnel plan back to lawmakers, but toll hikes remain unchanged