Calling all Penangites: While the rest of the world is turning to more sustainable forms of urban mobility especially in view of climate change, here we are in Penang going backwards.
They are pushing ahead with that incredibly short-sighted plan to build an RM8bn six-lane highway (going up to eight lanes on a certain stretch) on our green island (at least what’s left of the greenery). This highway comes to you, courtesy of SRS Consortium’s shopping list of transport mega projects.
At a cost of RM8bn, this 19.5km highway from Gurney Drive in the north to the Jelutong Expressway in the South East, which will include 10.1km of tunnels, works out to a staggering RM410 million per kilometre. (Imagine if they were to used that money to improve our public transport instead. The cost of this highway alone could pay for the entire public transport component of Halcrow’s Penang transport masterplan – for the whole state!)
Remember how we were all upset over the inflated cost of the East Coast Rail Link? That was RM60bn for a 688km line – or RM87 million/km. This Penang highway is a whopping RM410 million per km! How do we even justify this.
The highway, known as the ‘Pan Island Link’ (the name copied from Singapore’s Pan Island Expressway?) will also be environmentally damaging, as this monstrosity will turn into a bridge above the Youth Park. Almost 40,000 square metres (almost 10 acres!) of our precious park land will have to be acquired for the project. Imagine a quiet tranquil walk in the park then. Not!
It will then hug the hills of Penang, even tunnelling through several stretches. It will even fly over the Penang Hill Railway and lurch 350 metres behind the Kek Lok Si temple before dipping into another tunnel.
It will soar high – up to 440 metres above sea level at its highest point. That’s half the height of Penang Hill! More than a fifth of the highway will be along sensitive, risky Class 3 and Class 4 hill slopes (ie gradients of more than 25 degrees). Wonder how many more trees will have to be chopped down. And they even plan to realign stretches of rivers for the sake of this blinking highway.
Still support the highway? You might think differently if your homes or offices have to make way for this highway – or if it is going to get too close to your children’s schools. Or if your shops and homes will be in the shadow of the viaducts, intersections and flyovers.
Among the “sensitive areas” within a 100-metre corridor of the highway in the Gottlieb Road/Bagan Jermal area are Phor Tay School, Penang Chinese Girls High School, St Nicholas School for the Blind, the Youth Park and a couple of temples. In the south, the schools close to the alignment are Sungai Ara Religious School and Seri Permai School.
And I haven’t even mentioned the residential areas that will be affected by the highway piercing through their neighbourhoods. (Affected residents are euphemistically dubbed “sensitive receptors”!) Check out this area in Sungai Ara, for instance:
For sure, scores of homes and offices around the PIL alignment will have to make way. So better check the alignment, pronto. Many more people will have to put up with the noise and pollution during the construction phase – and when that’s over, the noise and pollution from passing vehicles
The project proponents will point to their “public perception surveys”, which showed that about 58% of the respondents supported the highway and 35% were against. But such surveys are meaningless. A lot depends on who you ask, how the questions are framed, whether the respondents were presented with more eco-friendly alternatives for easing congestion and whether they are fully aware of the long-term environmental impact of this project.
Of course the contractors will laugh all the way to the bank with their profits. But for many Penangites this PIL will be a bitter pill to swallow. It will encourage more people to use cars until the highway clogs up – and then what? We are back to square one. How short-sighted can you get.
As one concerned Penangite said, “The rest of the world is phasing out cars, banning diesel, turning to electric, pushing for public transport – and we are pushing for more cars, more pollution, more noise, more environmental destruction – all on a very tiny, fragile island.” Penang leads?
Check out my earlier post: Imagine – an RM8bn six-lane highway ‘flying over’ Penang Hill railway!
Go have a look at the EIA – over 800 pages of trying in vain to justify this colossal waste of public funds (yes, the sea, from which they plan to reclaim land to raise funds for this project, is a public asset) for an environmentally damaging project – and voice your objections for what it’s worth. The EIA will be put up on public display from 11 July to 10 August 2018 at several locations.
This was what I meant by the Penang Dilemma. Penangites voted for change, for a new Malaysia, and the change did come – but do we really want the excess baggage from the past, including monstrosities like this project, that comes with it?