Penang government’s highways-tunnel vision a big step backwards

Anil Netto

Yesterday, representatives of Penang Forum raised serious concerns with the Penang state government over the four highways and tunnel project.

During a two-hour meeting with state government representatives, including the Chief Minister, and the press, the activists registered their serious concern and opposition.

By building more highways and a road-based tunnel, the state government will be facilitating the movement of more cars instead of encouraging people to use public transport.

The Pakatan’s manifesto promises better public transport, but the state government plans to spend RM27bn in the coming years, according to the Penang transport master plan. Out of this, RM17bn will be for highways and only RM10bn for public transport. Surprisingly, the state government was not even aware of these figures. These figures have not been disclosed to the public. It is a great pity that most of the money will be to create even more dependency on public transport.

Building highways and a road-based tunnel is at best a short-term solution. What happens when these get congested. The Jelutong Expressway itself is rapidly filling up – and that is even before the second Penang bridge is completed!

The state government says the highways and tunnel will only proceed if the EIA is approved. But how independent is the EIA process when consultants are appointed by developers and contractors? We still don’t have a state-wide hydrological study.

The public has not yet been told who the local partners are in Zenith Consortium, along with the firm from China. Who are the key local people behind the five companies in the consortium? Again this information – an important part of the deal – has not yet been provided. Who are the real local interests?

The state government seems to think that “the people want these projects”. But “the people” are not being presented with serious alternatives. They are being told: “It is either congestion or accept these highways and tunnel.” Of course they will choose what they are being told is the solution. But they are not being given a real choice between sustainable public transport or more highways. In fact, the Penang Transport Masterplan consultants’ own public survey showed that a large majority of the people want a public transport-based solution and not more highways.

Some believe these highways and tunnels are more about property development and construction contracts than transport. It is more about Big Business contracts than about public transport.