Why bulldoze through the Penang tunnel project?


This is the fourth article in a series to explain why the Penang state government should get an independent review of the Penang transport Master Plan (PTMP). It was written by Dr Ahmad Hilmy, an associate professor in USM (Technology cluster – transport system) and Dr Lim Mah Hui, a former professor, international banker and Penang Island city councillor.

Why does Penang need to rush to have the 7.2km undersea tunnel project when the original Penang transport masterplan officially adopted by the state government clearly states that it is not an urgent priority? Why this haste when the survey of Penang’s traffic volume by UK-based engineering consultant Halcrow showed that cross-channel traffic in 2011 accounted for only 7% of total state traffic during peak hours?

The first draft by Halcrow that was presented sometime at the end of 2012 to the Penang Transport Council (of which Lim was a member) showed the undersea tunnel may only be needed towards 2030. But, for some reasons, in the final draft in 2013, Halcrow brought the date forward to 2025.

The public was told by the state government that the tunnel was needed because it could not get federal approval to build a third bridge across the channel or to obtain approval to take over ownership and operation of the ferry service.

But now that Pakatan Harapan controls both the state and federal governments, it is in a position to consider cheaper and environmentally friendlier forms of public transport. This notably includes improving the ferry service or/and possibly having a rail link on one of the existing bridges.

Despite all these, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow has again brought up the issue of the tunnel and other mega infrastructure, asserting them to be a priority for his administration to solve the island’s traffic problems. The undersea tunnel project would connect Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam on the mainland.

It is planned to be built along with the three main highways comprising the 10.5km north coastal paired road from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang; the 5.7km Air Itam-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway; and the 4.1km Gurney Drive-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway paired roads. In total, these four projects are estimated to cost RM6.4bn.

Many Penangites would love to use the ferry service if it is efficiently managed and brought up to for example, the standard of the Hong Kong–Kowloon ferry service. Pedestrian usage of the ferry service has been dwindling over the years because it was infrequent, unreliable and not pleasant. A proper study should be made on the cost of upgrading the ferry service to acceptable standards.

Presently, the rail service of KTM, which has improved significantly, unfortunately ends at the Prai/Butterworth station. It is poorly integrated with the ferry service. It takes almost one hour for passengers to cross from this railway station to the ferry terminal at Weld Quay on the island, thereby discouraging people from using trains as an entry mode to Penang Island. This is another compelling reason to improve the ferry service.

Additionally, the state and federal authorities working in coordination should look at the feasibility of providing a rail link on one of the bridges between the mainland and island. A cross-channel commuter train would be much better than constructing yet another bridge for cars. It would also cut travel time considerably and encourage people especially those on the island, heading to or coming from Kuala Lumpur, to use the train instead.

For all the above reasons, the current Penang government which promises competency, accountability, transparency and openness should have greater public engagement and participation before bulldozing through those mega projects

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Penang government has refrained from answering claims made by former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over the continuation of 19.5km Pan Island Link (PIL) 1 project despite it costing more than previously estimated. Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the state would only respond to the matter after it received accurate information about the project. “I do not wish to comment on his (Najib’s) allegations. “Give me some time to get the right information and statistics about PIL 1 before I issue any statement on the matter,” he told the NSTP when met today. Najib had reportedly said the… Read more »

Siong Yee

Penang lang scared of c4?

Ho Wan Lai


Pro Penang Transport Master Plan folks label Penang Forumers as Penang Elitists.


They forget to say self-righteous, rich_are_wrong_because_I_cannot_be_one people too..

Siong Yee

Yes, they want to keep Penang exclusive to themselves?

But when rich foreigners buy house in Penang to migrate here, can bring jobs to Penang lang. Can work as domestic workers, garderners or drivers for rich people.

Steve Teoh

Are there two bridges too many ? Money is better spent on the island’s infra instead to ease congestion rather than another gateway to the mainland. The 2nd bridge IMHO should have been at the location that this new tunnel is planned to be located. So near the original one….. boggles my mind

Siong Yee

Some smart people want Penang free buses be made available to wai laos, but this will discourage local ladies to board the free bus for fear of harrassment after the Feringgi Beach boy incident.

Ho Wan Lai

This is not discrimination. The phobia of harassment on bus deter many young ladies to take public transport. They prefer to drive solo further complicating the traffic mess on island.


Pg forum talk so big about transport but bus deters syt from taking. Better action is do something than talk and talk. Pg forum how to cajor syt and ah bengs to take public buses. Now only ah peks, ah ma and guest workers are taking buses


How about granting license for Penang Forum to run a bus company on the Penang island?


Pg forum can talk but not do. Sitting in the kopi tiam and type into the smart phone. After 10 mins, mission accomplished. Running a bus is worse than raising some kids. How to lim kopi and eat one ton mee?