Let the waterway go forwardWe have mixed feelings about the Gyeongin Ara Waterway, which is scheduled to open next month. The ambitious civil engineering project, which links Seoul to Incheon Harbor through an 80-meter-wide and 6.3-meter-deep canal, will be completed after 19 years of debate on the economic benefits versus the environmental destruction.
Though 97 percent of the work is now complete, the dispute over the feasibility of the canal is still going on. If the government were to stop the massive civil engineering project, in which 2.245 trillion won ($1.9 billion) has been invested, it would be a national waste.
If everything goes well, however, the government can expect three major benefits from the canal: a sharp reduction in rising transportation costs, prevention of flood damage and an increase in tourism revenue.
During monsoon season, the canal can help control floods by transferring overflow from the Han River and Gulpo Creek to the Yellow Sea. In normal times, it can be used as a waterway for vessels carrying passengers and cargo directly to the Yellow Sea. In addition, the canal can contribute to the revitalization of the local economy once the related tourism and leisure infrastructure is established. One think tank anticipates that it will increase production by 3 trillion won and create 25,000 new jobs.
Opponents have raised doubts about whether cargo or passenger ships can go smoothly through such a narrow, shallow canal and have questioned the credibility of the government’s evaluation of its environmental and economic impact. It also remains to be seen if passenger ships can begin to operate amid persistent opposition from the Seoul Metropolitan Council, which is dominated by the Democratic Party that has traditionally opposed these kinds of infrastructure expansion.
We were quite delighted at the news that 11,000 Chinese tourists are planning to visit Jeju Island as part of one tourist company’s incentive package. Who knows if Chinese tourists would also like to come to Seoul via passenger ships shuttling between China’s east coast cities and Seoul?
And for how long should we ship products from Gyeonggi to Pyeongtaek Port via land routes in order to export them overseas? We should find a realistic solution to ease the stifling traffic on highways along our west coast. The canal offers a good answer to the dilemma. It is time to draw on our wisdom to turn the waterway into a landmark of our country.