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In 1592 J.H. van Linschotten, a Dutch navigator on a Portuguese vessel sailing along the west coast of Taiwan, was so impressed by the lush beauty of the coastal plain that he named the island on the chart "Ilha Formosa ." The West adopted the Portuguese name of Formosa for the island.

It was truly beautiful. It isn't, now. Industrialization has ruined much of Taiwan's beauty in the name of progress. The west coast of the island is by and large "ugly" with the exception of a very few selected spots, and Taiwan's transportation authorities are almost completely set on ruining the beauty of the east coast as well. They are planning to build a freeway between Suao and Hualien.

With a price tag of NT$100 billion attached, the expressway appears more like a pork barrel project than one for economic development as the authorities want the people to believe. As a matter of fact, Taiwan has seen many featherbedding programs carried out in the name of economic progress.

Take Hualien for instance. It was opened as an international port in 1963. That was not exactly a pork barrel project, but there was no need whatsoever to open a third international port in addition to Keelung and Kaohsiung. Of course, the economic boom predicted for the port city never materialized. President Lee Teng-hui made Hualien's economic growth one of the top priorities of his presidency. He had an expensive railroad built to connect Hualien with Taipei, and another line was constructed between Taitung and Kaohsiung to complete Taiwan's round-the-island network, the purpose being to bring the boom on the west coast to the backward east.

The results? Well, the county of Hualien is still economically backward enough for politicians of all stripes now to push for the expressway to stimulate its economy.

The Suao-Hualien freeway certainly is too expensive. But at least, if it is built, it would not be a white elephant like Taiwan's vaunted but trouble-ridden high speed railroad along the west coast of the island. That's why few people are seriously opposed to the construction of one too many expressways on a small island like Taiwan but for its detrimental impact on Formosa the once-beautiful.

Politicians should know the rare beauty of nature, with which the east coast of Taiwan is richly endowed, may be gone forever, if and when the planned freeway is built. They should not try to buy votes with our legacy of nature.