Penang tunnel: Comparison with Hong Kong flawed


The Penang state government’s contention – that Hong Kong has three tunnels; so why can’t Penang have one – is flawed as it is not comparing nutmegs with nutmegs.

For a start, while Hong Kong (1101 sq km) and Penang (1046 sq km including mainland Penang) have almost similar areas, Hong Kong (popn 7.2m) is one of the most densely populated places in the world – 6516 people per sq km. Penang (popn 1.6m), on the other hand, has a population density of only 1450 people per sq km. So Hong Kong is over four times more densely populated. No comparison there.

Hong Kong has a highly developed public transport network of trains, buses, trams, ferries and minibuses. Over 90 per cent of daily travelling in Hong Kong is on public transport – the highest rate in the world. The state of public transport ridership in Penang, by comparison is pathetic, almost laughable! In Penang, we haven’t even explored and tapped into public transport options. No comparison there.

After tapping into public transport usage, Hong Kong has built three tunnels. Are these viable and sustainable? Recent reports have shown that congestion is plaguing the tunnels. The more tunnels are built, the more they will prove to be insufficient and will eventually choke up. Then what? The answer does not lie in road-based tunnels for private motor vehicles but in putting in place cross-channel public transport links.

Penang is now shrouded by thick smog. This should prompt us to think more about curbing emissions. Facilitating the use of private motor vehicles by building a tunnel and more highways will only worsen air quality – and contribute to climate change. But sadly, environmental concerns do not rank highly in this International, Intelligent City.

The state government argues that a tunnel would ‘open up’ northern mainland Penang for more ‘development’. Development for whom? And what kind of development? More super condos for developers to build and for the wealthy to induldge in speculation, further driving up property prices on the mainland? More private motor vehicles choking the streets of the mainland, which are already filling up with cars? No thank you to that kind of ‘development’!

The Penang government maintains that the tunnel will be the third link, after the first and second Penang bridges, conveniently omitting to mention that the ferry service was the first link and the proposed tunnel would actually be the fourth link. The ferry service, however, has been neglected and there is no political will by the federal government to expand it; instead all eyes are on the mega construction contracts for bridges and tunnels and the tolls to be collected and the multibillion ringgit land-for-tunnel swap deal. THAT is the real motivation for the tunnel. Developers meanwhile are salivating over the prospect of more high-end property development on the mainland. In Hong Kong, there was once a proposal for better ferries to ease tunnel congestion. Why don’t we push for an improvement in the ferry service?

But what happens 12 years after the tunnel is built and the roads along Gurney Drive are choked while Jelutong Expressway experiences gridlock? Do we build more tunnels for cars then like in Hong Kong? Why not a rail link right from the start, linking the new high-speed railway station in Butterworth to the island, as an urban planning expert familiar with Penang has suggested?

It is ludicrous that the feasibility study for the tunnel is being undertaken by the tunnel developer after the award of the tender and after its controversial inclusion in the Penang transport master plan. The manner in which it was included in the plan suggested that the tunnel was not the masterplan consultants’ idea. (I witnessed the consultant asking a Penang state exco member whether the tunnel-highways mega project should be included in the plan. So much for these consultants and their RM3.2m masterplan.)

Is the Penang state government aware that public protests have erupted in Hong Kong against land reclamation, forcing the scaling back of original plans?

Wikipedia reports:

On 5 October 2003, over 1,000 protesters dressed in blue marched on the Central Government Offices calling for a halt to reclamation work in the harbour.[12] They also promised to follow up with a three-pronged protest next month using land, sea and air to get their message across. The march was one of several protests in recent weeks over harbour projects,…

In an effort to soften opposition to the reclamation project, the government proposed that the reclaimed land above the underground transport infrastructure could be used to construct a world-class waterfront promenade. (Sound familiar? Think of the linear park planned for Gurney Drive.)

Marine pollution

In October 2003, Greenpeace said that the Central reclamation would create 580,000 cubic metres of toxic silt, 63% of which was classified as “seriously contaminated” by the Environmental Protection Department. The activists were repelled when they attempted to collect mud samples from the Central reclamation site for analysis.[16] The Government was accused by Greenpeace of using “cheap and outdated” dredging methods during reclamations which leak toxic waste into the harbour.[17]

It stood accused also of dumping the dredged toxic waste in outlying island sites near an artificial reef created to protect marine life such as the Chinese white dolphin.[17] Fishermen reported that average catch had been cut by half since the reclamation started.[17] The Government responded that reclamation “would not cause irreversible marine damage.”[17]

In the case of Penang, the fishing grounds will be destroyed by land reclamation near the tunnel project and there are major concerns about how dredged material will be dumped. Questions are also being asked as to why the Penang state government (that’s us, the public) will have to absorb the substantial expense of dredging five years after the Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase 2 land reclamation project (linked to the land-swap deal for the tunnel project).

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IslandJoe is complicated in his comment but what is the context, if any, in his argument? Kindly elaborate as my English is only SPM standard and I apologise for failure in understanding his comment. No offence.


Probably I don’t write too well rather than your English being a problem. All I’m saying is that everywhere in the world governments try to break up proper discussion from people. In Malaysia, regardless of if you’re pro-BN or pro-PR or anti everybody, its very hard to get a voice. The media are not independent and in the case of Penang BN, they don’t do their job as a credible opposition due to their own vested interests. Then take the way our state government released the info. Its a classic way to get it through. – Release what looks like… Read more »


comments from readers like islandjoe, tunglang etc kind of long winded and put off readers like me who access via small screen smart phone.
need to be short and straight to the point to express the context precisely.
anyway, as a tutor i get my students to read then summarise long-winded comments in one precise short paragraph.
my non-hokkien fluent students get to learn penang style hokkien along the way.


With all due respect Anil, we’re all wasting our time commenting (ok said in a bit of tongue and cheek as dialogue / opinions are always useful but I hope you see my point). All the comments above have no context. Its like giving an opinion on how long a piece of string should be. Everyone’s commenting in piecemeal as we don’t have a vision for the state for which we can CONSTRUCTIVELY criticise. We must focus on where we are heading towards to be able to weigh up the consequences. Tunnel or not, bridge or not, environment vs business,… Read more »


BTW in HK only 30% is kept for residential, the rest is mostly green parks. Maybe that part can copy la.


Like I said before, for all the fancy comparisons to Singapore, its Hong Kong which is the dream… Chunking Mansions one day in Georgetown, mark my words… Anyways how about turning one lane on the first bridge dedicated for BRT services? Also need to turn the ferries into passenger only options (like their beloved HK – cheap and efficient). Unfortunately once on the island need more options. Maybe one day if they build yet another bridge, and the developers get their way with whatever land remaining on the island they can turn the other lane on the first bridge into… Read more »


Anil, your proposed one lane may be the one-way ticket for emigrating bo bin chui Penangites seeking sanely affordable homes beyond Coast-Mud-Politan Penang Island & Mainland as further away as Sg Petani.

Don Anamalai

Tunnel is good as islanders can live in Bagan Ajam while commute to work in the island.


mainland penangites also like to enjoy island ori-maestro street food and vice versa so they have the right to drive to the island for that reason, anil.

najib manaukau

Najib is in real trouble to be seen in the company of Lim and soon someone from Umno will demand that he be removed as president of Umno just like the demand for the home minister be asked for handling an award to Malaysiakini ! Even the very thought of having another means of transport between the mainland and Penang is not only ridiculous but out of your mind especially when the country is in deficit and mulling with the idea of leasing fighter jets for the air force. Good luck to whoever is thinking of leasing the jets to… Read more »

Sia Boay Chim

najib manaukau, your observation of spending beyond means by present state gomen is precisely the point of contention. The after effects are numerous, more so for the ordinary folks whose earnings are nothing to afford anything in the name of such ‘progress’.
What’s the point of having mega white elephants when the stomachs go hungry just to sustain living in super-expensive state that borrows to have bing chooi structures and unsustainable projects.

Rufus Mallu

The tunnel is certainly not a necessity, but improved public transportation certainly is. It seems that the state govt is only measuring “success” in terms of mega structures & sky scrapers, not the improved state of life/living of the people 🙁


More accurate to say its not comprehensive argument to argue for a Tunnel in Penang by comparing Penang and Hong Kong. I would also say the critics arguing the difference and negative of it is not really to the point either. The way to look at it properly was the Second Bridge was not the wisest thing in the first place. It was originally proposed over other options because of vested interest and took a life of its own. Now that it is done, problems remain given the development of the north side of the Island and potential of development… Read more »


Having lived in Penang for more the 10 years my view is that Penang should insist on a MRT or light rail island wide from the federal govt. The undersea tunnel is not a priority given the 2 bridges up & running. As for those who criticizes LGE they should not just make noise but give constructive suggestions if they think otherwise.


Yes, criticising for the sake of opposing because we dont like guan eng’s face is very immature la…

Honestly, i shiver thinking that what would have happened to penang if the island is still under gerakan today ???


Almost 95% of what Penang is today is due to Gerakan. Now we shudder to think what Penang will become with the reckless adhoc development that is taking place all just for bing chui


Its easy to criticize and demand. Just saying public transportation repetitively is not helpful.

Federal power must change before public transportation has any hope to become a priority.


Yes, agree absolutely. To do anything meaningful, we have to change federal first.


For bing chui or for congestion
For cronies or for coffer
Chant or Cat


Have you guys read about Soros’s reply to Dr M published in Bangkok post?

Not doing something to traffic jam, kau peh !

Doing something to help the congestion, kau bor !

One 1derful Malaysia !


This accountant has not studied economics, state management & social science to take on an effective leadership role. Much less emotional intelligence. More of a CopyCAT of SingLand, HK & anything superficial + soulless cosmopolitan without an integrated development plan & execution catered for the local needs. Doesn’t matter if the locals suffer or can’t catch up, since it will be a self-portfolio to brag at the altar every 4 yrs. And more millionaires (mostly foreigners) added to enhance Penang’s population growth (& thus achieve higher GDP + income per capita) but mostly of rich & famous. The boh bing… Read more »


READ THIS: Penang seagrass bed – home to turtles and dugongs – threatened The state’s only bed of seagrass, which is home to various marine species such as turtles and dugongs, is in danger after the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) called for a proposal to reclaim it. ALERT: Penang Venerable Deity @ Komtar Bio (Temple) was super-quick to embrace the environmentally sick reclamation project ” It would only proceed with my fullest blessings if the environmental impact assessment permitted it”. “Permit it” is such a ludicrous assurance of the highest order as if Nature has pre-agreed in futures swap-deals… Read more »


And the world’s most expensive city is… Singapore

Copycat Alert: Hope Penangites who are now struggling in the SHORT-CHANGE era will have a good night sleep without a nightmare of Cat Deity coveting SingLand’s status in its Coast-Mud-Politan Frezied Vision for the rich & famous.

Sia Boay Pek Boh Pai Tokong

Not enough Federal money, still want to compare ah?
Ask yourself, tokong. You dearly want this tunnel for your own bing chui track record before you go 6ft underground (boh liao). We don’t want somebody’s ego dream, we don’t want your coast mud politan dream either.


Yes, should compare apple to apple not apple to orange.