LAST_UPDATETue, 19 Jun 2018 12am

Penang Undersea Tunnel Project: A Transformation The Island Does Not Need


In the battle for Penang voters support, how much influence will the undersea tunnel have?

Launched two weeks ago, the Penang Barisan Nasional (BN) manifesto had put forward 60 pledges for Penangites that contain six main points that address the frequent floods, rampant hillside development, affordable housing, as well as, the economy and welfare.

However, one issue that sticks out among Penangites biggest woes is the worsening traffic congestion and the manifesto had made a bold pledge to solve the traffic congestion issues within 3 years.

On that note, one of the projects that Barisan Nasional had deem most unnecessary is the Penang Undersea Tunnel project, a planned three paired roads project which includes connecting Tanjung Bungah with Teluk Bahang, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway with Air Itam and Gurney Drive with Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway along the RM6.3 billion proposed undersea tunnel.

Penang BN chairman Teng Chang Yeow, who launched the “Save Penang” manifesto said the proposed undersea tunnel project would be cancelled as it would only cause more congestion by bringing more traffic to the island.

The focus should be to look at ways to reduce traffic congestion such as creating a Traffic Dispersal Plan and increasing the efficiency of the existing public transport system and “park and ride” facilities, he said to local media.

It takes a Penangite to properly put in context what it’s like to do battle with the choking traffic conditions along the major roads in and out of the city during commute hours which doubles or triples in intensity every time a festive holiday season begin, so Malaysian Digest reached out to residents to hear their woes.

Penangites Share Their Distress About Traffic Congestion

Businessman Alex, 30, said there are more cars today compared to before, following the increase in population within the island and in its surrounding mainland suburbs.

In addition, he said there is a growing number of job opportunities seen from the increase of tourist attractions all around Penang, which makes the island highly dense with traffic during peak hours and holiday seasons.

“When we compare the traffic infra works, it has certainly improved but not everywhere,” he points out the imbalance that leads to the bottle necks.

“We can't change what has already been built in the heritage zone as none of the old pre-war shop houses are able to be demolish for widening the road for better traffic flow.

“The state government is trying to find various ways to improve the island’s public transportation, but it has been rejected by the community due to various issues with structures overshadowing the heritage scenery. Although traffic has worsened during peak seasons, but overall, the infra works have been improved.”

Many of the major infrastructural works he refers to were set in motion before the change of government although they were completed in more recent times, like the Tun Lim Chong Eu Expressway and even the Second Penang Bridge.

Alex, from Tanjung Bungah, also points out that the controversial undersea tunnel project is unnecessary for the whole of Penang state.

However, he added that the state government had not offered other viable options when they basically told residents that this option is the only solution which on the face value could prove to be effective for Penangites staying in the northern region and northern peninsula.

“Enough is enough. The current state government is only interested in showing off the rapid development and ignores the after-effects of these projects. At the end of the day, what do we get from it?” said Khairul, who hails from Balik Pulau had told NST during the manifesto launch.

As for Cathy, 25, she said how over the years, she has seen improvements in Pulau Tikus, where she lives which is famously known to be one of the most congested residential areas on the island.

“Changing the roads in Pulau Tikus to a one-way street has eased the congestion. Even the walking lanes have improved as I sometimes prefer walking to the mall instead of driving.

“However, as for now, I don’t see the need for the undersea tunnel to connect the main land to the island as we already have two bridges. In my opinion, I believe what’s most effective for Penangites now is by building an underground MRT to solve the traffic congestion or improve our public transportation within the island,” she added.

Aizat, 42, personally thinks Penang needs an effective shuttle between the train lines in Seberang and the island, then only would the effectiveness of public transport in Penang will follow which would also reduce the use of private cars.

He points out that the controversial project has both negative repercussions and positive ones as well, but ultimately, which one is more a priority?

“I think the Penang Undersea Tunnel project should be seen from both angles whereby it would provide more access but more traffic in, yet easier access for traffic out,” he observed that a huge influx of traffic will end up within the inner-city centre further aggravating congestion.

As a topic that has become a political flashpoint, let us put aside the contradicting perceptions and look at the larger picture - a masterplan for transport, as explained to Malaysian Digest by an urban planning expert.

Penang Relies A Lot On The Masterplan

A retired senior lecturer in Housing, Building and Planning (HBP) with 38 years industrial experience offered up his view about the Penang Undersea Tunnel project.

“The Penang government's decision to propose the tunnel and the LRT has a basis on the first Penang masterplan plan for transportation comprehensive studies by a traffic consultant from London. The main focus was to see the promotion of public transportation as opposed to private vehicular modes which poses lots of jam and inconvenience.

“It is also to address the mushrooming of new development projects especially housing and to reconcile demand for efficient traffic management. It is also in-line with the declaration to make Penang as an international city including improving connectivity between airport and various spots in the northern part of Penang - the city centre, tourist destinations like beach hotels in Batu Ferringhi and the Penang Hill,” he said.

Similar to what a Penang resident had alluded earlier about the tunnel being a double-edged sword, the urban planner elaborated on this further.

As much as BN highlights the traffic congestion the tunnel would bring, he believes on “the connectivity between island and mainland dwellers when commuting between both sides of the island and mainland using public transport and new tunnel link to the north side of the mainland”.

Living in Penang for almost 65 years, this retired lecturer has noticed a great deal of progress on his beloved island. He points out that the move to encourage commuters to use public buses through the free bus services within the critical areas of the island is a good start to reducing the number of cars on the road but it all comes back to long term planning.

Was focusing the state’s resources on this grandiose solution the only answer?

To finance the undersea tunnel project, the state government had to give way to developers to construct more high-end properties without solving the existing problems of Penangites.

“Penangites can already see for themselves how the DAP state government is a pro-developer, all at their expense and also the environment. Penangites do not benefit anything from the Penang state government’s plans, only the developers,” Penang Umno Liason Committee Chairman Datuk Seri Zainal Abidin Osman told Utusan Online.

Barisan Nasional pledged to save Penang from an “imminent crisis” in its election manifesto. Among others, it vowed to cancel the contentious undersea tunnel and reclamation projects at Gurney Drive and the three islands project south of Penang Island and the senior lecturer also points out that it should be seen from both angles how more access (like tunnels, bridge) means more traffic in, but also easier access for traffic out.

Who know better the daily concerns of residents than an elected representative of the people which is why Malaysian Digest asked a BN state assemblyman to shed some light on the issue.

How BN’s Manifesto Can Bring A Positive Change To The Welfare Of Penang Residents

To gain a clearer perspective, YB Datuk Shah Headan Ayoob Shah who is the Teluk Bahang ADUN for Barisan Nasional, shares with us what he sees in store for his community  and if they stand to benefit from the Penang Undersea Tunnel project.

Datuk Shah starts by highlighting to us that Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng needs to find a way to rationalise his logic to build the controversial tunnel.

As for BN, he believes they have offered a better alternation in their manifesto which he describes as “a solid plan that studies the main issues in Penang like the traffic congestion”.

“By saying that we need a tunnel to reduce the traffic congestion in Georgetown, it will also worsen the crowd on the island too. The northern part, we have two links which includes the ferry and the Penang bridge.

“So evidently, when we increase the frequent of the ferries, then that is the best solution to link mainland and the island because we have to remember, when we build a tunnel there, it will only congest the area on the seaside,” said YB Datuk Shah Headan who doesn’t see the solution a tunnel will bring.

It would only create havoc on the island, he added, bringing up his concern over the lack of proper research as even the feasibility study could not be finished so what happens if they persist in building tunnel, he queried.

Adding that it would only encourage the traffic congestion in Penang he questions why not think of ways to improve our ferry system.

“Increase the amount of ferries, have more times slots for the ferries, shorten the travelling time, and maybe we can bring in a big ferry like a hovercraft. Right now, the ferry journey is roughly 30-35 minutes.

“Penang’s congested area is firstly, Georgetown then Bayan Baru, where all the factories are located. If Guan Eng’s excuse is that the second bridge is too far away from the northern part of Penang, the question now is for whom?

“Businessmen or bankers etc, they work in Georgetown. It seems like the Penang state government is running this state by a businessman’s proposal for all their concerns revolves around the income of the state rather than the wellbeing of Penangites.

“What the government needs to do is to disperse the source of traffic congestion. For example, the immigration department caters to 1,500 - 2,000 people a day as everyone needs to renew their passport or pay for their income tax. By moving some of them out of Georgetown, this could eradicate the traffic congestion,” he added.

As for what is at stake for the communities in Teluk Bahang and surrounded areas if the Penang Undersea Tunnel project takes place, the Teluk Bahang ADUN explains how the reclamation project would have an adverse effect them, the people in Tanjung Tokong and even Kuala Sungai Pinang, especially the fishermen.

“Penang is a state whereby we don’t own any natural resources. Our main business is manufacturing, then the other 40% is tourism. So, when our economy is good, investors would come in. But during the recession time, like our tourism industry, it would also decline.

“I know of some engineers who, during the recession, had to become fisherman or take up two jobs. The Penang government must really understand what Penang is made out of; whether it is based on their income, their lifestyle etc.

“The people of Penang do not mind being a fisherman even if they have an international degree because that could be their second income or their passion. During the recession and there is no business in the manufacturing or tourism, what would the people of Penang do? You have to preserve and gazette the fishing resources area. We are not like Pahang where they have plenty of land,” he further argues.

Save Penang: Penang BN Pledges

After ten years of DAP having their way in running the state, what resulted was more flooding, affordable homes getting scarce and traffic congestion worsens while Penangites who can’t afford to own homes can only watch the multi-million ringgit residential developments being erected on every inch of available land, with the hillslopes not being spared either.

In fact, Penangites should not have been forced into this situation of having no other option to solve their traffic woes if they look back to what transpired in the past and remember how DAP had played a big role leading to the traffic impasse Penang is faced with today.

When BN was governing Penang, it was already in the masterplan to build an outer ring road, or famously known as Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) that would disperse traffic but the Opposition then had created so much controversy which made the people go against the idea.

“There is a basis of implementation. Data is available to the current state government and all decisions on implementation of paired road and tunnel are part of PORR too. So there is a rethinking of PORR with the current master plan, traffic demand and projection on how to disperse traffic more efficiently from Tanjung Bungah to Georgetown and Gurney Drive all the way to the airport, while connecting with the two bridges,” he recalled.

Fast forward 20 years later, the infamous traffic jam going into Penang island and its city centre as well as the beach resorts up north come to a virtual standstill every major festive season.

Looking back, YB Datuk Shah Headan said ironically, DAP who championed to opposing it previously, have not only used the similar idea, they had even changed the name but allow it to serve the same purpose.

For example, take the road at Batu Ferringhi for example. Perhaps if and when BN regains hold of Penang state, they would continue the idea but would probably name it differently, Georgetown Linked Road etc, he suggested.

The problems faced by Penangites are not only concerning the tunnel issues so that is how BN’s manifesto can bring a positive change to the welfare of Penang residents.

Last year, the media highlighted on the flood tragedies that had hit our glorious neighbouring northern state.

“When performing their research and studies, the Penang government should based their planning on a 100-year count of weather forecast and not just a decade worth of statistics.

“You won’t see the pattern otherwise, hence, massive floods on the island which is what BN as promised and aims to rectify.

The Penang state government is spending a huge amount of money on the island but is not benefitting the 1.7 million people in Penang as a whole.

Although BN has been in the opposition in Penang for 10 years, BN who is under the federal government has collected around RM6 billion, income tax e.g., but have spent almost RM4 billion for Penang, Datuk Shah Headan points out.

“So you can imagine what they have done for the Penang state; the airport, flooding budget and elevated highway etc, even though its ruled by the opposition,” he concluded.

-Malaysian Digest