Penang doesn't need PIL 1, says USM lecturer

Siti Sofia Md Nasir

GEORGE TOWN: Penang is not in dire need to build another integrated highway, especially on the island, a Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) don said.

The cluster technology and transport system lecturer from USM’s school of housing, building and planning, Associate Professor Dr Ahmad Hilmy Abdul Hamid, said Penang, which was only 1,048sq km in size, did not need a mega highway project on par with developed countries.

He said the plan by the state government to construct the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) highway project, which consisted of six lanes, including a tunnel passing through several hills, was similar to the highway systems of larger territories such as Hong Kong and Taiwan.

“If we look at PIL 1, it is very risky and would not benefit the people in the long run,” he told the New Straits Times.

“The hillside areas in our country are not entirely formed of granite. They have natural water flow systems, hence if the PIL 1 project will expose Penang to serious environmental threats and neverending traffic congestion.”

The Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) project, which was announced in 2015, consists of light rail transit (LRT), undersea tunnel and three paired roads.

The project will be funded through the reclamation of three man-made islands for industrial, housing and commercial purposes.

The 20km PIL 1 is part of the three highway projects which were included in the PTMP.

Early last month, the state government put the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report of PIL 1 on public display until Aug 10.

The highway is expected to reduce travelling time from Persiaran Gurney to the Penang International Airport to only 15 minutes, compared with the current travel time of between 45 minutes and an hour.

However, the construction of PIL 1, has met with widespread condemnation as it will include a 10.1km tunnel highway inside Penang Hill, Paya Terubong and Sungai Ara hills.

The 1,195-page EIA report also mentioned that the construction would involve drill and blast techniques, and require about 700kg of explosives.

Hilmy said PTMP was derived from the Halcrow Plan, which was presented by a leading engineering consulting company from the United Kingdom to the state government in 2009.

“In 2009, the state government did not appear to have the concept or ability to handle it, hence the Halcrow Plan was taken and used as reference for the future.

“The state government approved the Halcrow Plan in March 2013 but did not have the capability to implement it. They then looked for partners and eventually handed it over to SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd,” he said, adding that the original version by Halcrow took a holistic approach in solving transport problems in Penang by focusing on trams and improving the Bus Rail Transit services.

He added that the Halcrow Plan was only estimated to cost RM27 billion.

However, after it was converted into the PTMP, the cost ballooned to RM46 billion.

“We are not against the PTMP, but it seems to be more favourable to the developers. PTMP is extremely expensive and a waste. It will not help Penang become a better state.”

Hilmy urged the state government to review the PTMP and come up with a more suitable public transport system.

For instance, he said, attention needed to be given to providing feeder bus in housing areas to connect to the main public transport system.

“The Halcrow Plan is good but if the state government can improve the feeder bus services, which can connect smaller bus stations to the main roads, then it will be easier for the people as they will be able to make use of the public transport system.

“Many developed countries are not building new highways. They are planning for more efficient public transport for their people.” © New Straits Times Press (M) Bhd