Penang Bridge disappointments

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Liaw Yew Peng was chief resident engineer of the first Penang Bridge in the 1980s and speaks about some of his happy memories – and disappointments.

Liaw, now 81, was brought into the project by Prof Chin Fung Kee, who had taught him engineering at University of Malaya in 1959. Chin worked on the design of the bridge along with consultants from US infrastructure design firm HNTB, which was hired by the Malaysian government in 1976. (An earlier feasibility study on the Penang Bridge was carried out by Danish and Malaysian consultants in 1971.) The design for the approach spans of the Penang Bridge was done by HNTB’s Seattle office and the Malaysian consultant while the main cable-stayed spans design was done in HNTB’s New York office.

The construction contract was awarded to Korea’s Hyundai Engineering and Construction in 1982 and it was given three years to complete the bridge. The Penang Bridge was finally opened to traffic in September 1985, completed at a cost of close to RM800m – well below budget, thanks to Liaw’s close scrutiny of expenditure and a design change proposed by Hyundai.

Before he was promoted to chief resident engineer of the Penang Bridge, Liaw worked with James Lichy of HNTB’s Seattle office. Liaw was interviewed by Penang Economic Monthly last year:

The bridge may be one of Liaw’s best projects, but some aspects beyond his control left him disappointed. Foremost are the iconic cables at the centre-span of the bridge. Extensively tested in Germany, the cables had a lifespan of over 100 years, as estimated by Prof Chin. Yet the cables have since been replaced in a multi-year project that ended earlier this year, which Liaw estimated cost the public to the tune of hundreds of millions of ringgit. (From what I hear, the replacement of the cables cost close to RM200 million – Anil.)

In talking about the cables, he is clearly upset, raising his voice. According to Liaw, who was chief resident engineer of the bridge, the original contractor responsible for the cables was legally obligated to cover the costs of the cables if they were at fault. “If the cables were overstressed, go back to the contractor! Why does the employer have to pay a few hundred million? It has only been 25 years.” Liaw says that everyone involved in the bridge was outraged when they found out.

Another disappointment for Liaw was his discovery that Penang no longer receives any revenue from the Penang Bridge. “I thought the state government gets 15% of the bridge income. An Exco member (YB Lim Hock Seng, Penang Exco for Public Works, Utilities and Transport) said that the 15% was taken away long ago. So Penang doesn’t benefit from the bridge.” (An email from YB Lim confirms this.)

But there are happy memories as well. The happiest moment for him was during the celebration dinner on the bridge, which hundreds attended, shortly before it was opened for use. “All the hard times, the scolding and cursing were forgotten,” he laughs.

Liaw remains proud of the work he and his fellow engineers did on the bridge, particularly when it came to the budget. Liaw would personally review the expenditures for every single day of the project, and although the bridge was budgeted at RM850mil, the final cost was RM100mil lower. In an age where project budgets continue to balloon, Liaw’s achievement is all the more remarkable.

For the full PEM interview, go here.

From what I gather, Chong Eu had wanted Penang to take over the bridge but was thwarted by a high price quoted by the federal government. The Penang Bridge is now managed by Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd, which comes under UEM. UEM Group in turn is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the federal government-owned Khazanah Nasional Berhad.

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ahsiang

I wonder how good/bad the second bridge will be?

Cheap resident Engineer

haha

Cheap resident Engineer

I am so suprised what Mr. Liaw’s scope of work ie, to monitor project cost every day. By Malaysian standard today, CRE can safely forget about controling the project. With so many well connected con-tractors carrying out Government jobs, and so many cowboy malaysian engineers around, Mr Liaw’s style CRE better watch out! You too strict -I will report to my Boss and ensured that you will be removed, and replace you with a cowboy RE (RE=rotten egg) who is too happy to replace you. When I feel like to con more money, CRE better agree,or else……….. so nowaday I… Read more »

tunglang

That’s why so many Gomen infrastructural projects collapsed here and there created by cheapo Pasar Malam engineers. Who in the BN truly cares as long as it is Ah Kong’s free-flowing monies. Pocketing fast ringgits is the 1st unwritten commandment in the Great Cycle of Satu Lagi Projek, a more prestigious name than the Arabic sounding Ali Baba con-nection!
Not only that, just look at the various Gomen Multimedia public communication and PR projects done by so-called ‘pros’. Looking like ‘gostan balik’ in quality, ideas and presentation.

That’s the way ‘forward’ aspired by Cyberjaya.

wira

How come not even a datukship to an engineer who saved RM 100 million for the country?

tunglang

B’cos no Kang Tau when costs were saved by Liaw Yew Peng, chief resident engineer.
It was more like a no-gravy train curse to them to have this God sent engineer, but a gift to all Penangites.

Nevermind, Mr Liaw Yew Peng. You and your family will always be remembered and etched in our Penangites’ minds when we think of Penang Bridge.

moo_t

I wouldn’t jump the gun on so called “overstressed” and 100 year lifespan. It is common that design fail to see problem on the field. Wind speed, sea water corrosion rate, lousy maintenance , bad insulation, use of inferior material, etc , can easily break down a well design engineering. A country with engineering culture, will publish flaw and finding and share it among the engineering world. However, all sort of leakage(Parliament ! ), roof collapse (Terengganu stadium ) , delay (MATRADE building) , costly road maintenance, etc , are hiding from the public scrutinize, show that Malaysia proper civil… Read more »

Miki

Anil should conduct an exclusive interview with Mr Liaw Yew Peng to uncover more truth and inside stories behind the bridge project.

wandererAUS

……..end of the day and the bottom line is, the tax payers are the suckers, the UMNO … cronies are the benefactors..200 million!!…

wandererAUS

Anil. was there an inquiry to pin point whether it was sub cables were supplied or consulting engineers miscalculation…until this fault was established, making wild guesses will be a hallow excercise!

kngkong

What a engineer. How can the cables be overstressed? The design is based on the bridge and wind loads determined by the engineer and not contractor. If the bridge and wind loads are more, it shows the engineer has UNDERESTIMATED the volume and weight of the traffic and there cannot be the fault of the contractor who construct based on engineer’s drawings. If the contractor over pulls the cables during installation, then the Engineer’s Site representative tidor in the job.

Concerned

Anil,

Do you have more details on this cable changing project? Like why it was started? Who found out the problem after 20 years later? I still confused why it is overstressed.

Thanks.

kingkong

The Enginers think that the possible max load is only bullock cart but UMNO/Gerakan parties are loading it with battle tanks for the General election….

Sean

That’s a nice article. It’s good of Liaw Yew Peng to commit his valuable memories to public record.

tunglang

Federal gomen ‘hijacked’ the Penang Bridge knowing it would be a cash cow, too irresistible for their cronies to benefit at the expense of gullible Penangites. We were fooled under the Gerakan (political) eunuch (bileless species…) way too long.
And the 2nd Penang Bridge looks like going that way?
Cow heads may not be respected or desired, but cash cows are worshipped day and night by (those) in Putrajaya.

Yang

Tunglang,
The cash cow goes into their cronies… and now UEM

tunglang

And they can moo-oooo till the next cash cow (2nd Penang Bridge) comes directly to their homes!
How’s that for milking us high and dry!

wandererAUS

The past Engineers serving the nation were of a different caliber!…they take great pride in their work. What they did in those days building a first cable spanning bridge, completed below the estimated sum was praiseworthy. Now the project taken over by political (cronies) caused tax-payers 200mil more.
… not within the original agreement…”lucky escape” for the contractors who were supposed to bear the cost for faulty cables. Apa macam macam pun boleh…Ketuanan UMNO Melayu boleh!

tunglang

The past Engineers serving the nation were of a different caliber!

BUT their sweat-inducing work ethics cannot apply to our Gomen dept. or cronies. Hard work, work moral, work empowerment, perseverance, pride of work and discipline principles to them mean cannot make fast money in Boleh Land. So crony principle is the way to Kaya Raya!

Penang Lang

No matter how hard you work for Malaysia, as long as you are not Malay, it just does not register.

Nope. You will still be a “Pendatang”.

But I guess we can’t blame them for everything.

I mean, we have, among the “Pendatangs”, we have (people) like Koh Tsu Koon, for example.

It was Koh Tsu Koon who gave away the Penang Bridge shares…

tunglang

Work (hard) for ourselves, our families, our children. Take care of our inherited cultures (Chor Kong’s). See to it that we (minorities) can survive on our own chosen terms of survival and prosperity come what may. Come globalisation. Think out of the box, out of Malaysia.

Rather than sulking, being self pathetic helpless or wait for fish, bread and butter from the sky.