Not long ago, when activists asked the Penang state government why it was pursuing the cross-channel tunnel-highways option instead of improving public transport, they were told that public transport comes under the federal government and there is little the state government can do about it. Remember?
But no sooner had the land-for-tunnel-highways swap deal been done and dusted, we were suddenly told that the state government is now planning a RM4.5bn LRT route. Federally owned Prasarana and well-connected Gamuda are reportedly in the picture.
How is this possible when until recently, the state government’s mantra was that it had no choice but to undertake the tunnel-highways project because it could not do much about public transport as that fell under federal jurisdiction. We were even told in October 2013 that Prasarana would not even consider a free Rapid Penang bus service during peak hours even though the state government was prepared to pay RM10m annually for the service.
Now even before construction work on the tunnel can begin, we are told that oh yes, the state government can get a federal licence for an LRT system after all. What kind of game is this?
Meanwhile, federal-linked players are interested in the multibillion LRT project. (Of course, they would be, whenever fat contracts are on offer. They do like fat multibillion ringgit contracts, after all. What about the George Town tram system that would cost a fraction of this cost?)
No doubt a big property developer(s) will be lining up, eyeing the land that will be handed over as compensation under the reported land-for-LRT swap deal – much like how Zenith, the tunnel developer, is tying up with Ewein in a property development joint venture over a portion of the land-for-tunnel swap.
Whatever happened to open tenders for the sale of land? Why can’t PDC take charge of any land reclamation independently and any smaller parcels be sold separately at the best price? (And remember reclaimed land is supposed to be leasehold land.) That is of course assuming (a big IF) such reclamation doesn’t harm the environment (including fisheries) and a genuinely independent EIA is carried out, not some farcical charade of a detailed EIA process.
So now that we have an LRT project, we can easily do an Air Itam-George Town-Butterworth Railway Station cross-channel LRT link to connect to the KL-Butterworth double-tracking line – and cancel the ill-advised tunnel project. After all, the Penang transport masterplan consultants, hired by the state government at a cost of RM3.2m, only included the tunnel in its masterplan at the state government’s request. (I overhead one of the consultants asking a state exco member whether they should include the tunnel and highways in the masterplan.)
Have we been taken for a ride on the tunnel?