Yesterday, representatives of Penang Forum raised serious concerns with the Penang state government over the three highways and tunnel project.
During a two-hour meeting with state government representatives, including the Chief Minister, and the press, the activists (including me) registered their serious concern and opposition.
By building more highways and a road-based tunnel, the state government will be facilitating the movement of more cars instead of encouraging people to use public transport.
The Pakatan’s manifesto promises better public transport. But the state government plans to spend RM27bn in the coming years, according to Penang transport master plan estimates. Out of this, RM17bn will be for highways and only RM10bn for public transport. Surprisingly, the state government seemed unaware of these figures, which have not been disclosed to the public. It is a great pity that most of the money will be to create even more dependency on private motor vehicles.
Building highways and a road-based tunnel is at best an expensive short-term solution – funded by toll collection from the public and luxury property development (watch what happens on the 110 acres of reclaimed land used as ‘compensation’ for the project). What happens when these get congested? We will be back to square one or even worse. The Jelutong Expressway itself is rapidly filling up – and that is even before the second Penang bridge is completed! Similarly, the Penang Bridge, with a new additional lane, is becoming increasingly congested. So too the highway on the mainland leading to the Sungai Dua toll booth.
The state government says the highways and tunnel will only proceed if the EIA is approved. But how independent is the EIA process when consultants are appointed by developers and contractors? And we still don’t have a state-wide hydrological study. The EIA process is likely to be a rubber stamp.
The public has not yet been told who the local partners are in Zenith Consortium (apparently, there are five companies involved). Who are the real local players, the individuals, hiding behind the corporate veil?. Amazingly, this information – an important part of the deal – has not yet been provided to the public.
There were only two bidders for the tunnel package out of the four tenders received. Of these two, the successful bid was for RM6.3bn for all three highways and the tunnel. (The other was RM6.6bn.) Only two parties from the entire world bid for the tunnel? Why? And the winning bid from the five-company consortium is to be awarded a lucrative 30-year concession based on the Penang Bridge toll rate. Is the public aware that the Penang Bridge toll collection has raised many times the initial investment cost of the bridge? So this tunnel concession is a highly lucrative award that will reap a bonanza for the foreign and local partners.
The state government claims that “the people want these projects”. (Or is it the case that Big Business wants these projects?) But “the people” are not being presented with serious alternatives. They are being told these highways and tunnel are the solution to the congestion. Of course they will choose what they are being told is the solution. But they are not being given a real choice between sustainable public transport and more highways. In fact, the Penang Transport Masterplan consultants’ own public survey showed that a large majority of the people want a public transport-based – not a highways-based – solution. Why is the state government ignoring this?
Some believe these highways and tunnels are more in line with a vision of Big Business property development and construction contracts than of sustainable transport. (Look at the editorial in Malaysian Insider.)
The state government seems to think that three highways and a tunnel (road-based rather than rail link) will take Penang into the 21st century. This is a fallacy. It will take Penang backwards to the 1970s, when highways were seen as symbols of progress. The reality of the 21st century is that climate change, fossil fuel depletion and higher fuel prices will become even more serious. Congestion will also ruin the environment – which has been the selling point for Penang. Under these circumstances, why is the state government putting in infrastructure to create even more dependency on private motor vehicles? At a time when cities in Europe are discouraging and making it more difficult for people to use private motor vehicles and are putting in infrastracture for sustainable transport solutions, the Penang state goverment wants to take us in the opposite direction!
The state government claims its hands are tied over public transport, which they say comes under the federal government. But Pakatan leaders think they have a real chance of taking over Putrajaya, and public transport is in its manifesto. So why is the Penang government in a big hurry to tie itself down with a highway-based solution instead of promising better public transport if it captures Putrajaya? I find this incomprehensible. Why not campaign on a platform of promising public transport improvements instead of pledging highways and a tunnel? This way it can show there is a real difference between BN and Pakatan.
The state government seems to be capitalising on anti-BN sentiment among voters to push through its tunnel vision. It will then claim that if voters choose a Pakatan government it would be an endorsement of the highways-tunnel. Conversely, it claims if Penangites do not like these projects, they can vote the state government out. The people’s vote against the BN should NOT be confused with an endorsement of some of the Penang state government’s policies. The Penang state government should not mistake anti-BN sentiment as an endorsement of its highway-based and property-centric development model.
The property-centric development model and open property market policy have led to speculation and higher housing prices. The highway-based model, on the other hand, will lead to greater dependency on cars and congestion. Both housing loans and car loans (not to mention car maintenance and petrol bills) constitute a huge chunk of the rising household debt/expenditure and will impoverish many households that are struggling even with their grocery bills.
People are voting against the BN because they are tired of corruption and abuse of power and they want cleaner, more accountable government – not because they love highways and ridiculously priced houses and apartments! So the Penang state government is muddying the clear choice before the voters by throwing the highways and tunnel project into the electoral equation.
We want to see political change at the federal level; so that is why we take no pleasure in pointing out the above. My colleagues and I in Penang Forum are most disappointed at the way these projects are being rammed through on the eve of the general election – with what appears to be the objective of trying to tie the hands of the next government in Putrajaya with this short-sighted highways/tunnel-based option.
This is the CM’s statement on the issue today:
1.6 Million Penangites Will Decide On Pakatan Rakyat’s 4 Highway Improvement Projects Of RM 6.3 Billion And A Proposed Tram System Throughout The State Linking Both The Island And The Mainland.
The PR Penang state government will submit to the will of 1.6 million Penangites, who will decide on the tender award of 4 highway improvement projects of RM 6.3 billion, including South East Asia first underwater sea tunnel from Gurney Drive to Bagan Ajam. The four major highways were recently awarded to a consortium comprising a local company and Beijing Urban Construction Group, a major Chinese construction company that built the Beijing Olympic Stadium Bird Nest.
Should PR win power in Putrajaya, PR is also proposing a tram system throughout the state linking both the island and the mainland. BN’s monorail is inappropriate for a world heritage city like Penang, as its elevated structure will destroy Penang’s charms. As a tram system on level ground would match Penang’s heritage, new alternative roads are required so that existing roads can make way for tram lines.
No To Monorail Yes To Tram
BN’s monorail project will not happen even if BN wins in Penang because of two reasons. One, the monorail would not be permitted by UNESCO and its construction would cause George Town to lose its UNESCO World Heritage city status. Two, BN has never fulfilled its promise when the monorail was first made by former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2006. Neither was this promised delivered when Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became the Prime Minister. Clearly we have to wait until Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim becomes the Prime Minister, then will there be a tram system.
Public transport is the sole jurisdiction of the Federal government. Even if the state government has the funds, the Federal government can refuse to give licensing and co-operate to allow a public transport system in Penang. This refusal to co-operate was clearly demonstrated when the Federal government refused to accept RM10 million yearly by the state government to provide free Rapid Penang bus rides during peak hours throughout Penang state. The Penang PR state government will not be a do-nothing government and will build new alternative roads to try to make up for the refusal of the BN Federal government to deliver on their promise of providing an effective public transport in Penang.
No To Entry Charges To George Town, Penang.
PR has firmly rejected extreme calls for entry charges for all vehicles entering George Town, Penang as PR is committed to free movement of people within Penang as well as those from outside Penang. To adopt this “Singapore model” to reduce traffic congestion is elitist at best in reserving George Town for existing residents and discriminatory at worse by only ensuring that the well-off can enter George Town, Penang.
Can Teng Chang Yeow Explain Why BN Sold The 940 Acres Of Reclaimed Land in Tanjung Pinang At Only RM1 Per Square Feet?
The Penang state government regrets the lies made by BN Penang Chair Teng Chang Yeow on the tender price, if the federal government has been informed or approved the tender to a joint local-international consortium and relating to the amazing speed in the tender award.
The Federal government was aware of this proposed project as far back as 2011 when both Prime Minister Dato Seri Najib Tun Razak and Chinese Premier Wen Jia Bao witnessed the exchange of Memorandum of Understanding by me for these 4 highway and tunnel projects in Kuala Lumpur. The open competitive tender was called in 14.11.2011 and public engagement with the public was carried out in 2011 briefing them of the project. The entire tender exercise was a transparent and accountable process.
How can these four projects be done with amazing speed when the first will be completed after 2017 and the underwater sea tunnel by 2023-25, even though the state government will try to finish it by 2020? The long construction time is due to the need to comply with Environmental Impact Assessment(EIA) requirements. Failure to comply with EIA would mean that the 4 projects would not go on.
The formal contract is still subject to discussion and is expected to be signed in a few months time and it will not proceed if rejected by the people. Further, the final tender price is not the estimated RM8 billion but RM 6.3 billion awarded to the lowest tenderer, Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd. No cash will be paid but payment will be made in the form of 110 acres reclaimed land in Tanjung Pinang.
For Teng to claim that the reclaimed land is non-existent is a shameless lie as BN had approved the reclamation of 940 acres at a shocking price of RM1 per sq foot and 10% of the land to be given to the state government. Can Teng explain why BN had sold the land at such a low and illogical price of RM1 per sq ft? The PR Penang state government had managed to increase the amount of land to be given the state from 10% to more than 20%, which will be used to finance the construction of the 4 major highways.
The horrible traffic congestion a few days ago on the 1st Penang Brigde due to repairs on the bridge reminds us of the importance of having this 3rd link for the future. Whilst the 3 highways mitigating the traffic congestion to Batu Ferringhi, around George Town as well as Bandar Baru Air Itam and Farlim area is necessary, the 3rd underwater sea tunnel serves another function to spur economic development in Seberang Perai Utara(SPU).
The Penang state will not sit back and do-nothing on traffic congestion by taking the easy way out in blaming the Federal government for failing to provide public transport. Neither will we adopt an island-centric approach but instead develop a state-centric approach that encompasses the needs of the mainland. If there is a bridge linking the island in both Seberang Perai Tengah and Seberang Perai Selatan, there should be a link at SPU to advance economic growth.