Monday, June 28, 2010

Ten reasons why the second Penang bridge is not a great idea

  1. t will add to traffic congestion on the island. Even with an additional third lane, the existing Penang Bridge is expected to become congested again in a few years. That’s the rationale given for building a new bridge. But then, what will happen to the roads on Penang Island with all that traffic coming in? Green Lane and Scotland Road are already congested with no room for further widening. Has an independent EIA and traffic study – analysing the impact on surrounding areas and roads on the mainland and the island – been carried out for this project?
  2. We should be moving away from private vehicle transport and turning to public transport, not spending more money on infrastructure for private cars.
  3. Higher global oil prices costs will burden bridge users, what more if the bridge is more than 22-24km (17km over water) long. Oil prices will rise even further in coming years while Malaysia will become a net importer of oil in a few years.
  4. Toll charges on the second bridge are likely to be much higher than the RM7 on the existing bridge (a rate of RM9.40 has been mentioned), bearing in mind that the proposed bridge is over twice as long as the Penang Bridge. How many regular bridge users will be able to afford the higher toll and petrol charges?
  5. Higher toll rates on the new bridge will lead to hikes in the existing Penang Bridge toll (from RM7.00 to RM9.40 and no more 20 per cent discount for Touch ‘n’ Go users?) and ferry fares. (If the Penang Bridge toll and ferry fare is lower, few people will want to use the new bridge.)
  6. That would mean the tolls for the existing Penang Bridge will continue indefinitely even though the cost of the bridge has been recovered many, many times over.
  7. In July 2007, the estimated cost of the second bridge was RM2.7 billion. By October/November 2007, it had crept up to RM3 billion. By January 2008, it was between RM3 billion and RM4 billion. And now, it is at about RM4.3 billion! How much will the final cost come to upon completion of the bridge? (An expert familiar with bridge building told me that the cost of materials for a new bridge, based on the estimated built area, would quite likely be less than RM1 billion. So how do we get RM4.3 billion? Can we have a breakdown of this figure?) How were the contracts awarded to a joint-venture comprising China Harbour Engineering Corp, a unit of the state-owned China Communications Construction Group (CCCG), and United Engineers Malaysia Bhd, also a state-controlled company? The lack of open tenders could lead to inflated contract estimates. Penangites could end up saddled with the cost of the bridge and higher tolls for years to come while the toll revenues go to UEM/Putrajaya. The people of Penang could well have to stump out many times the cost of the new bridge in tolls, just as they have for the existing bridge. And what is the additional cost of making the bridge resistant to major earthquakes?
  8. The new bridge is likely to hurt the fishing industry in the southeast of the island, where fisher folks are already complaining about drastically reduced catches as a result of land reclamation. A Bernama report on 17 January said that the start of the second Penang bridge project had been delayed as the state government wanted to resolve several matters involving fishermen as well as fish and cockle breeders who would be affected by the project. Former chief minister Koh Tsu Koon said the project could affect the livelihood of 1,500 fishermen and the breeders, who were worried the project could threaten the area’s ecosystem. Will this deplete fish stocks and lead to higher seafood prices in Penang, making it affordable only to the elite? Has a study been done on the impact of the bridge on fisheries in the state?
  9. The money spent on the bridge would be better spent on quality public transport, social housing (instead of creating more high-rise slums), public health care and schools.
  10. The projected carbon footprint, the increased traffic, and the impact on global warming of this project is likely to be enormous. How many tons of raw material including metal, concrete, cable, electricity and fuel will be consumed in the construction of the bridge?

Building new roads and bridges to cope with congestion is not a viable long-term solution. Such infrastructure will rapidly get congested again, and then we are back to square one. There is a limit to the road surface area that Penang Island can take. And how much will all this cost in the long run and how will it affect the quality of life when more and wider roads are built, eating up precious green spaces?

So what is the alternative?

If at all a third link (the ferry service and the Penang Bridge are the first two) is necessary, how about a light rail link parallel to the existing Penang Bridge? This would encourage people to use public transport to commute between the island and the mainland.

This rail link could be connected by buses/trams/light rail to industrial areas and urban centres on the island and on the mainland.

The ferry services should be expanded. Bangkok makes full use of river transport, but Penang has not tapped the full potential of sea-based public transport. More ferry terminals should be set up at different points of the island and on the mainland so that ferries can criss-cross the channel instead of being confined to the Butterworth-George Town route. Buses and trams at the ferry terminals could shuttle people to their ultimate destinations.

What do you think?



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