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Last Updated: Friday, 16 June 2006, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Asia's longest road tunnel opens
By Caroline Gluck
BBC, Taipei

The Snow Mountain tunnel in Taiwan
The Snow Mountain tunnel is the fifth longest in the world.
The longest underground road tunnel in Asia, and the 5th longest in the world, has opened to traffic in Taiwan.

The Hsuehshan, or Snow Mountain, tunnel is nearly 13km (8 miles) long and took nearly 14 years to complete.

A special commemoration service was held to unveil a memorial paying tribute to the 25 people who lost their lives during its construction.

The tunnel forms a key section of a new national expressway, which cost nearly $2bn.

The road connects the capital, Taipei, to the north-eastern county of Ilan and will cut journey times from more than two hours to just thirty minutes.

A key aim was to tackle unbalanced development. Ninety-five per cent of Taiwan's population live on the west coast, leaving people on the mountainous east coast complaining they were being overlooked.

"When this tunnel is opened to traffic, we expect to save about $450,000 a day in transportation costs," said Jun Da Jen, the project's chief engineer.

But building the system - which includes two primary tunnels and a network of interconnecting pedestrian and vehicle tubes - was almost "Mission Impossible."

The tunnel cuts through Taiwan's central mountain range and was plagued by problems because of the complex geology of the site. There were dozens of floods and collapses; many workers died; and some experts doubted it would ever be finished.

Now it is completed, officials in Ilan County are anticipating a tourism boom.

Land prices there have soared and dozens of new hotels are being built. More than 30,000 cars a day are expected to use the tunnel, with the figure expected to rise sharply at weekends.

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