In the months before the general election in 2013, the DAP vowed it would go ahead with the tunnel if it was returned to helm the state government. It was a juicy carrot to dangle before voters tired of the privatised (and then run down) ferry service and to alienate critics. It also added legitimacy to the plan to reclaim land off Gurney Drive for massive property development.
The tunnel was part of a lucrative ‘land-for-a tunnel and three highways’ swap deal. But the massive property development along part of Gurney Drive was not shown to the public when the ‘Gurney Wharf’ plans were put on public display. Instead, what was shown were empty pale green spaces!
Over the last few weeks, many have got the distinct impression that the Penang state government’s interest in the tunnel project, which carries a 30-year toll concession, has cooled. But few really know why. Was the state government really serious about the tunnel in the first place?
Ditching the tunnel would be a good thing. But now the state government is trying to sell the idea of a toll-free bridge. So easy to switch from tunnel to bridge?
It makes one wonder what kind of planning and thought goes into these fanciful schemes. After all, the tunnel was not the idea of Halcrow, the Penang transport masterplan consultants. My impression is that it was the state government that wanted Halcrow to insert the tunnel into the masterplan.
Instead of cancelling the tunnel project and continuing to ask the federal government publicly to hand over the ferry service, the state government now seems more intent on requesting another mega project – a third bridge. Never mind that there’s hardly much traffic on the new second bridge most of the time, to begin with.
In June, it was reported that the RM6.3bn tunnel and three highways project had been delayed.
The three highways had been approved by the state, but they are pending an EIA.
But what was causing a delay in the tunnel? Why did the state government request tunnel developer Zenith BUCG to halt the feasibility study? theSun reported in June 2016:
Construction work for the three major roads has been delayed while the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel has been halted.
“The state government told us to stop the feasibility study and detailed design (83% completed) for now. We were not told the reason. I think they want us to start on the three major roads as soon as possible,” said Zarul.
He said it was told to stop the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel about a month ago. To date, the consortium has spent close to RM100 million on the feasibility study and detailed design, for which it has not been paid yet.
On whether the undersea tunnel will be cancelled or replaced by a third bridge, Zarul said it is up to the state government to decide.
“There is no compensation in the agreement. Whatever work we have done, we will claim from them,” he said, when asked about compensation if the undersea tunnel is scrapped…
To date, CZBUCG has completed RM220 million worth of works for the three major roads and has received one parcel of land worth RM135 million.
However, CZBUCG said it has received only 3.67 acres of land to date, out of the total 110 acres promised by the state government as payment-in-kind.
(Update: A swift clarification was made the following day to the effect that the tunnel project was still on, though it would depend on the detailed EIA. The tunnel was reportedly still feasible.)
Since then, it does sound as if interest in the tunnel has waned. Is it because the City of Dreams luxury condo project – which would have helped to raise funds – cannot go ahead for now after the Appeals Board imposed a stay order in July 2015? A dozen Seri Tanjung Pinang residents had appealed to the board about their unhappiness over the density and height of the project.
That’s precisely the problem with swap deals. It is easy to run into regulatory roadblocks on either side of the deal. What happens then?
So who is ultimately going to bear the RM100m feasibility study and design cost of the tunnel if it doesn’t go ahead?
And why the reluctance now to hand over the 83 per cent of the work done on the tunnel feasibility study to the federal government, which wants to have a look? What harm is there? After all, some parts of those studies might be relevant – like the alignment of the route and the condition of the seabed. It would also tell us what the studies reveal so far about the feasibility of a tunnel.
A bridge might be cheaper than a tunnel, but a toll-free bridge? Who would pay for the maintenance then?
Is that so that the 110-acre land swap would still be deemed necessary? After all, plans for the massive 50-acre Wellness CIty of Dreams project – with a gross development value of RM14bn – on reclaimed land in front of Gurney Plaza, to be undertaken by tunnel developer Zenith and Ewein, had been reported.
So many questions, so few real answers. What we know now is that instead of the tunnel project, a third bridge idea is being floated. All this suggests that the tunnel project and now the third bridge are not well thought-out projects.
Instead of a tunnel or a new bridge for more cars, why not just cheaper BRT and tram links on the existing two Penang bridges, a new rail link and an improved ferry service? But that wouldn’t fit with the 131-acre Gurney Drive land reclamation narrative being put forward.
Take a look at the letter below and see how interest in the tunnel has waned. What happened to all the pre-GE2013 talk about a tunnel?
3 Ogos 2016
YB Dato’ Sri Haji Fadillah Bin Haji Yusof
Menteri Kerja Raya,
Kementerian Kerja Raya,
Tingkat 6, Blok B Kompleks Kerja Raya,
Jalan Sultan Salahuddin,
50580 Kuala Lumpur [No. Faks: 03-27113288]
Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri,
PERMOHONAN KELULUSAN UNTUK MEMBINA JAMBATAN KETIGA PULAU PINANG BEBAS TOL DI ANTARA PERSIARAN GURNEY KE BAGAN AJAM, SEBERANG PERAI UTARA
Dengan hormatnya saya merujuk kepada perkara tersebut di atas dan juga surat Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri yang bertarikh 25 Julai 2016 berkaitan perkara di atas.
2. Sebagaimana yang Yang Berhormat Dato’ Seri sedia maklum, Kerajaan Negeri Pulau Pinang amat komited dan bersungguh-sungguh dalam mengusulkan rancangan pembinaan Jambatan Ketiga Pulau Pinang tanpa tol, jambatan utama pertama di Malaysia yang bebas daripada pelaksanaan tol. Hasrat Kerajaan Negeri untuk mempertingkatkan sistem pengangkutan moden yang menghubungkan Seberang Perai Utara (SPU) dengan kawasan Pulau adalah satu inisiatif penambahbaikan “connectivity” sedia ada di Pulau Pinang yang boleh membawa pembangunan seimbang di kawasan SPU.
3. Seperti yang dipohon oleh Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri, laporan kebolehlaksanaan projek terowong bawah dasar laut dan laporan rekabentuk akan dikemukakan kepada pihak Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri sebaik ianya siap pada penghujung tahun ini atau awal tahun hadapan. Kini kemajuannya adalah di tahap 83% siap.
4. Kerajaan Negeri kurang faham logik Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri yang perlukan kajian kebolehlaksanaan projek terowong bawah dasar laut sedangkan ianya tiada kaitan dengan jambatan ketiga. Yang diminta oleh Kerajaan Negeri adalah kelulusan bagi jambatan ketiga dan bukannya terowong bawah dasar laut.
5. Oleh itu, kami amat berharap supaya permohonan terhadap cadangan pembinaan projek jambatan ketiga ini diberi kelulusan secara prinsip oleh pihak Yang Berhormat Dato’ Sri supaya Kerajaan Negeri dapat mengambil tindakan sewajarnya ke arah merealisasikan pelaksanaan projek tersebut.
LIM GUAN ENG