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Asia's longest tunnel moves a step nearer to completion

EXCAVATION of the 12.9km Hsueshan Tunnel in Taiwan, the longest tunnel in Asia, was completed last month, marking a major milestone in the construction of the 55km-long Taipei-Ilan Highway that cuts through mountains and across river valleys.

The Taiwan government's aim in building an alternative to the steep and treacherous winding mountain route is to revive the economy in the island's north west.

The road is scheduled for completion next year and will cut travel time between Taipei and the scenic coast of Ilan to 40 minutes from two hours.

Construction of the tunnel began in 1991, but breakthrough was set back many years as engineers encountered various complex fault lines and had to contend with numerous tunnel collapses. A total of 11 people died during its construction.

Construction projects tend to be difficult in Taiwan because the island lies on a seismically active stretch of the Pacific basin, making it prone to earthquakes.

President Chen Shui-bian, who detonated the final blast at the breakthrough ceremony, told the construction team: 'All your sacrifices and efforts over the past 13 years have made the 13-minute ride possible.'

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