[FOUNTAIN]20 Minutes, 460 Billion Won Value

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[FOUNTAIN]20 Minutes, 460 Billion Won Value

The Korea Development Institute has concluded that the benefits of a new 1.6 kilometer subway line extension just south of the Han River would exceed the cost of the project by 2.3 times.

The extension would connect a subway line now under construction connecting Bundang, in southern Kyonggi province, directly to the downtown area. It would run from the Gangnam District Office station on the No. 7 subway line to the Apgujeong-dong station on the No. 3 orange line. This project, if approved and completed, would cut 20 minutes off subway riders' travel time from Bundang to central Seoul by either eliminating one train transfer or shortening a rather circuitous trip on the orange line.

The institute's assessment supports last year's assessment by the Board of Audit and Inspection concerning the project's value. The audit agency recommended to the Construction Ministry after one of its periodic inspections of the subway system that it should study a plan for shortening the route of subway line No. 3 and the Bundang rail line. The Construction Ministry asked the Ministry of Planning and Budget to fund the project; the Budget Ministry in turn asked the Korea Development Institute for a review of its feasibility. After that favorable study was published, most people thought the project would proceed.

But the Budget Ministry decided not to set aside any money for the extension. It said that travelers on the No. 3 line would have slightly less frequent service because more trains would have to share the line from Apgujeong northward, and that subway tunnel construction underneath the heavily built-up area where the new line would run would be too difficult and expensive. Even a layman, however, can see how lame those excuses really are.

In the report by the development institute are passages that suggest the real reason for the hesitation: bureaucratic skepticism about the project. The Construction Ministry apparently is afraid that the new extension would delay its New Bundang Line project. But the New Bundang Line construction will take more than six years to complete, and even after it is finished, passengers would have a difficult time to reach the downtown area from Bundang.

The Korea National Railroad worries that the second phase of its Bundang line construction might be canceled if the new project is approved. But the railroad administration's second phase Bundang line is planned in an area where demand for subway transportation is low. Even bus lines in that area were ditched recently. The most serious problem with its plan, though, is that the subway line planned by the railroad administration would have to cross the Han River, an expensive task.

Fortunately, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is very eager to build the new subway line. To move the project forward, the central government should hand over the business operating rights for the project to the Seoul metropolitan government. It will be sad if a project that could significantly improve access by Bundang citizens to central Seoul in three years at a cost of only 200 billion won ($150 million) is dropped.

The writer is a special correspondent for transportation affairs of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Eum Sung-jick

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