Penang Forum: Drilling for highway might cause Air Itam Dam to burst

Opalyn Mok
Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) president Lim Gaik Siang said the drilling for PIL1 might hit fault lines and cause the dam to burst. — Picture by KE Ooi

GEORGE TOWN, Sept 12 — Drilling and explosives to create tunnels near the Air Itam Dam might cause it to burst and endanger the lives of people living in the area, Penang Forum warned today.

Penang Forum member Lim Gaik Siang said drilling work for the tunnel will be close to the fault lines which are near the dam.

The Penang Heritage Trust (PHT) president, who is also an engineer, said the drilling work might affect the fault lines.

“This could affect the dam and if the dam bursts, it will bring down 2.5 million litres of water to houses below, in Air Itam town,” she said.

She was presenting the possible effects of the construction of the proposed RM8 billion Pan Island Link (PIL1) under the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) during a talk on the projects today.

She said the 19.5km highway along with a separate highway project of three paired roads by Consortium Zenith Construction and a Light Rail Transit (LRT) line will mean there will be 72.4km of elevated structures on the island.

“Penang is a small island. If we drive around the island, it is only 70km and yet the government is planning to build 72.4km of elevated structures on it,” she said.

Lim also pointed out that PIL1 will not address congestion issues immediately as it will take between five and seven years to build.

“The traffic conditions will be saturated by 2030 so it will not have resolved anything,” she said.

Lim said the project will affect more than 10 schools, 10,000 students, the visually impaired at St Nicholas Home, 20 religious institutions and 234 houses along the whole alignment.

“Instead of spending RM8 billion on one highway, there is a more sustainable, cheaper alternative to resolve the traffic congestion problems in the state,” she said.

She suggested that the state look at the original proposal by Halcrow for the PTMP which was to implement an integrated public transport system.

She said Halcrow proposed a RM9.677 billion public transport system that included trams, bus rapid transit (BRT), fast ferries and other commuter solutions to alleviate traffic congestion in the state.

“Instead of spending RM8 billion on one highway to move cars, the state government can use it to put in place an efficient public transport system to move people instead of moving cars,” she said.

She said the highway project will not only affect Penang’s fragile environment, such as Penang Hill, it will also affect the state’s tourism industry.

“Having an elevated highway towering over Penang’s double-storey houses and shops will ruin the streetscapes and charm of Penang,” Lim added.

Penang Forum has been holding a series of talks and public engagement on PIL1 and the PTMP.

Penang Forum, an umbrella body made up of mostly Penang-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has been vocal in its objections against PIL1 and has demanded that the PTMP to be reviewed.

Penang currently has two major infrastructure projects underway: the PTMP and the RM6.3 billion undersea tunnel and three paired roads project.

The three paired roads project, undertaken by Consortium Zenith, will connect Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway to Air Itam and Gurney Drive to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway.

Package One, which has two phases, connects Tanjung Bungah to Batu Ferringhi and in the second phase, Batu Ferringhi to Teluk Bahang.

Package Two connects Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway to Air Itam while the third package connects Gurney Drive to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway.

Consortium Zenith announced that they hope to start work on the Air Itam Highway next year.

The PTMP, undertaken by project delivery partner SRS Consortium, consists of PIL1, LRT, BRT and the reclamation of three islands off the coast of Penang island to fund the massive project.

The proposed PIL1, consisting of tunnels through hills and viaducts, will eventually link with the three paired roads by Zenith.

The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the three paired roads was already approved, while the EIA for PIL1 was recently put on public display.

The public has until September 24 to submit their objections against PIL1 to the Department of Environment (DOE).

Penang Forum has already collected some 3,000 objection letters from residents and affected students, and has submitted it to the DOE and the Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow.

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