Lawmakers are under pressure to act on an amendment bill to ensure a smooth transfer of the Eastern Harbor Crossing (EHC) or risk chaos when the current operating franchise expires in six months.
The government is set to take over EHC on Aug. 7 when the existing franchise runs out, pending approval of the amendment bill by the Legislative Council, Apple Daily reports, citing the Transport and Housing Bureau (THB).
New Hong Kong Tunnel Co. Ltd. is nearing the end of a 30-year contract to operate EHC under a build-operate-transfer agreement with the government.
The government will have no authority to appoint a new tunnel operator if the bill is not passed on time, THB said.
It is warning of chaos when the tunnel is thrown open to motorists free of charge as a result, with daily traffic surging 45 percent to 34,000 vehicles.
This could create mammoth traffic jams on both ends of the undersea carriageway — Eastern district, Kwun Tong and Tsueng Kwan O — and affect up to 680 residents and 540,000 transient workers.
These areas are home to 1.5 million residents and 700,000 workers.
In turn, deteriorating traffic conditions will exacerbate noise and air pollution, THB said.
The government might tap the police to enforce traffic regulations and maintain order but will be hard pressed to ensure public safety.
In extreme cases, it might be forced to close the tunnel to vehicular traffic, THB said.
It said the amendment bill is a technical issue and does not involve any change in policy.
It is mainly aimed at ensuring the smooth handover of tunnel operations from the franchisee to the government when the contract expires in August.
The government could then pick a new operator by public tender, the report said.
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