Taipei, April 29 (CNA) Since the 921 earthquake destroyed the Central Cross-island Highway 13 years ago, Taichung's Lishan residents and students have been unfairly forced to take the long road home, said Lishan borough chief Chen Cheng-fu on Saturday.
It is a five hour drive from Lishan to Taichung City, said Chen at a press conference held by ruling Kuomintang (KMT) legislator Chiang Chi-chen.
The 190-km cross-island highway, which connects Taichung City in the west and Hualien Country in the east, has been under reconstruction after it was almost totally destroyed in the quake, and a temporary road is opened to restricted traffic at 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. each day.
The road was closed for three days and only reopened on Saturday because heavy rain had destabilized rocks on surrounding slopes, said Hung Fan-yi, the head of the Guguan segment of the highway's reconstruction unit under the Directorate General of Highways
Chen urged the government to guarantee the safety of the trail and increase the number of hours that the temporary road is open.
"Not a single road on the mountain is free from falling rocks," said Chen. "I really wish my friends in Taichung could visit me sometime."
Usually, it is only an 81 km drive on the Central Cross-island Highway from Lishan to Taichung City, but with the highway still under repair, Lishan residents have to travel a double distance of 169 km by passing through Nantou County's Hehuan Mountain, said Chiang.
In addition, there are no high schools in the Lishan mountain region, so students are sent to study in Taichung City, but often need to take a very long trip to return home on weekends, Chiang added.
Taichung City Councilor Su Ching-yun also pointed out that it was unreasonable for Taichung City residents to have to travel through Nantou County to enter the city, and asked the government to reopen the highway to all Taichung residents as soon as possible.
The temporary road was currently available only for the residents of Fengyuan, Dongshi, Shigang, Xinshe and Heping districts, who are working in Lishan.
In response, Hung said the some segments of the highway are surrounded by steep slopes and cliffs, and heavy rain causes rocks to fall from the upper slopes.
Blockages caused by fallen rocks could make it even more difficult for cars to pass and also poses safety concerns, Hung added.
The segment of the highway that passes through Lishan is being rebuilt by the Directorate General of Highways' Second Maintenance Office.
Highway reconstruction, that was scheduled to be completed at the end of April, has now been postponed to May.
(By Chen Ching-ping and C.J. Lin)