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Gov't OKs traffic route change for Seoul Station overpass

The Transport Ministry on Wednesday approved Seoul City’s plan to tear down the outdated overpass near Seoul Station and alter routes for smoother traffic flow.

The ministry, however, said it was not a consent to the city’s controversial plan to create a pedestrian park on the 1-kilometer flyover, and that the approval was only given as new traffic routes submitted by the city did not pose any problems.

“This means we are approving a detour from the Seoul Station overpass, it does not mean that the overall traffic measure is perfect or that we are approving the creation of the park,” the ministry said of the decision that came after months of deliberation.

It added that while they are responsible for greenlighting the route changes, the traffic measures must be discussed with the police. Plans to use the overpass for other purposes, such as a park, should also be discussed with the Korea Rail Network Authority, it added.

Seoul City, adamant about carrying out the project that has become one of Mayor Park Won-soon’s signature urban projects, said it will be closing the overpass from Dec. 13.

The overpass, which was constructed in the 1970s, received a grade “D” in a safety test in 2006. Instead of tearing it down, the mayor vowed last year to transform it into an elevated pedestrian park similar to the High Line Park in New York City as part of the city’s urban restoration project.

The plan, however, has faced hurdles, as the police delayed the review of the city’s traffic measures, citing them as insufficient and saying the Transport Ministry’s approval was required first.

The city argued the police were deliberately delaying it on political motives. Some raised speculation the police had been influenced by the central government to contain Park, who is considered a potential presidential candidate for the main opposition party.

The city had threatened to close the overpass from Nov. 29 and partially tear it down for safety purposes on its own authority. It is authorized to discretionally tear down construction or control and restrict traffic if there are obvious public safety risks.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (rene@heraldcorp.com)
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