Light at End of the Tunnel?
Statement by Penang Heritage Trust
PHT welcomes the State Government’s publication on 25th March of the Penang Transport Master Plan with its balanced approach to resolving the problem of traffic congestion. The Transport Master Plan public survey showed clearly that the people of Penang prefer the balanced approach.
PHT wholly endorses the State Government’s commitment to improving public transportation so that it will be the people’s main choice when travelling. The State Government’s aim to achieve 40 per cent public transportation usage by the year 2030 is also laudable.
PHT is concerned, however, that the recent award by the State Government of contracts for highways infrastructure development is not consistent with the Master Plan’s balanced approach to solving Penang’s traffic problem.
In justifying the award of these contracts the State Government’s focus appears to be on infrastructure (highways and cross-harbour tunnel) without promoting measures of any substance to discourage individual car usage (e.g., car-free days in certain areas, conversion of certain streets to pedestrian malls, increased charges for on-street parking, restricted vehicle access during peak hours).
PHT appreciates that the distribution of powers between different levels of government may present a challenge for the State Government in implementing its preferred public transportation policies. Nevertheless, abandoning the commitment to this option at this time in favour of focusing on infrastructure mega-projects is most unwise. Instead, PHT urges the State Government to redouble its efforts in cooperation with the Federal Government to implement public transportation solutions that will ease traffic congestion and benefit the people of Penang.
With respect to the contract awards, PHT is concerned that they appear to put the cart before the horse – a feasibility study should have been done first (costs of which could be included in the successful tender). Other matters of concern about the contract awards include
a) The need for a tunnel. The Transport Master Plan indicates this should be assessed only in 2025 to 2030, not that the tunnel should be completed in that timeframe as recently announced.
b) The lack of a Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) for the future 740-acre land reclamation. It is within the powers of the State Government to insist on this especially when such reclamation is clearly causing damage to Penang’s coastal and maritime environment.
c) DEIA conducted by consultants appointed by the developer. Funds should be placed with the State to appoint an independent consultant. (This should apply to TIAs and HIAs as well.)
d) Whether the State is paying for acquisition of private land for the highway projects.
e) Why the least urgent project, the proposed Tanjung Bungah to Telok Bahang highway, is accorded first priority.
f) Whether development is to be allowed along these proposed highways and if so at what privileged density. The objective should be to alleviate traffic not open up more areas for high-density development thereby increasing traffic.
In conclusion, PHT supports the position taken by the Penang Forum and the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP). At the same time, the Penang Heritage Trust advocates a sustainable vision for Penang that includes public transportation solutions that will not only ease traffic problems but also protect for future generations Penang’s unique heritage of cultural landscapes, historic communities, forested hills and coastal areas.
Penang Forum opposes road-based tunnel, serious reservations about highway-building spree
The Penang Forum Steering Committee opposes the proposed road-based undersea tunnel and the state government’s emphasis on highway construction over improvements in public transport.
(The tunnel would be the fourth cross-channel link, after the ferries and the first and second Penang bridges.)
There are just too many unanswered questions (see the list below) that throw the viability of this mega project into doubt.
While it is true that public transport comes under the jurisdiction of the federal government, we feel that ‘do-the-wrong-thing’ approach (promoting dependency on private motor vehicles over the long term) is worse than the ‘do-nothing’ approach.
A more sensible and visionary approach would be to come up with a comprehensive plan for sustainable transport while educating the public and pressuring the federal government to realise that change.
It is true that the federal government now has overbearing jurisdiction over public transport but that may not be the case if there is a change of government in the coming general election or the one after that. Jurisdiction over public transport would then be decentralised.
In the meantime, the state government should lay the ground work for integrated, sustainable public transport in the state. The state government can do the following now:
- Kick off a campaign to promote the widespread use of public transport among ordinary commuters. State government leaders could show leadership by example by taking the bus or cycling to work wherever possible.
- Prevent illegal parking (by clamping) to decongest key routes so that bus lanes can be created along certain stretches. A trial run could be carried out at Burma Road, for instance. These bus lanes may also be used by taxis, emergency vehicles and multi-occupancy vehicles.
- Buy RapidPenang season tickets in bulk and distribute them to target groups such as school children, working adults and senior citizens. Alternatively, the state government could provide full or partial reimbursements to those who show proof of purchase of these season tickets.
The public can be enlisted to do the following:
- Pressure the federal government through petitions and letter-writing campaigns to increase the number of buses in the state and decentralise public transport decision-making.
- Turn the quest for improved public transport in the state into a major general election campaign issue.
- Take public transport to work at least once a week for a start.
We enclose our reasons for opposing the tunnel project and our reservations about the highway building spree.
Penang Forum Steering Committee
19 March 2013
About the vision:
- Shouldn’t important public policies be based on evidence and analysis?
- Will building more roads solve traffic problems?
- Is the public being given an alternative based on sustainable transport?
- Are we moving to the 21st century or moving back to 20th century with the state government’s emphasis on building infrastructure for private motor vehicles?
- Does creating dependency on private transport help the poor?
About the process of making public policy
- The formal agreement for the (Transport Masterplan) TMP was signed in mid 2011. In the same week, the CM announced the signing of MOU for four major road projects with Chinese companies. Does it make sense to have the solution before the study has started? Does this not ignore evidenced based analysis and policies?
- Concurrent negotiations for the tunnel and highway projects started in 2011 held while the TMP study was underway. Why were awards for the projects given out even before the TMP is finalized and made public?Doesn’t this pre-empt the significance of the report’s recommendations?
- TMP calls for a balanced approach to solving transport problems. It suggested short and medium term measures and recommended major road construction as longer term solutions commencing after the short/medium-term measures. Are we putting the cart before the horse by reversing the priorities suggested in the TMP?
- Have there been independent feasibility studies, cost benefit analysis, traffic demand simulation etc done for ALL the four projects before they were tendered? Isn’t it standard best practice to conduct such studies BEFORE tender and award, rather than after?
- The TMP is based on the assumption that the population will be 2.5m by 2030 and that by this time a sea tunnel may be justified. The Department of Statistics released a population projection last year which projects a population of 1.8m by 2030. It appears that Halcrow has not done any modelling of the population; they have just assumed historical growth rates will continue, which would suggest that the tunnel will not be required even by 2030.
- How is the public expected to provide meaningful feedback when they are hazy about the precise alignment of the routes? All the precise proposed alignments should be displayed to the public for their comments. State gov should practice transparency especially now that the Freedom of Info Act has been passed?
About the tender
- If there was an MOU with the China government, how can there be an open tender? Is that why only two bids were received for the tunnel – both involving firms from China? Why were there no other bids from other countries? Because of the earlier MOU? If so, is this really an open tender?
- Who are the parties behind the three small local companies that were in the winning tender bid? Has there been an evaluation to look into their track record and expertise? Do these companies have any political connections?
- What kind of performance bonds will the local companies give?
- Can state govt under the CAT policy make publicly available all the tender documents and acceptances and the decisions of the tender award.
About the reclaimed land
- What are the plans for the 110 acres of land: how is the use of this land going to contribute to or solve some of our existing problems. Is it going to add to traffic congestion? Is it going to address shortages in public space and how is it going to influence the property market and the price of housing. How much affordable housing will be built on this land?
- Who is going to develop the land – the local companies within the consortium, the China companies or an external developer? If so, who is the developer and the contractors and do they have any political connections?
- Can the state government guarantee that there will be a really independent detailed environmental impact assessment for this land? Can it also guarantee that there will be a reliable independentt hydrological study for the entire island and mainland?
- What is the market value and gross development value of the reclaimed land? Where exactly is this located?
The financial considerations
- Who will pay for the cost of acquisition of private land that is in the way of the proposed highways?
- How was it decided to award 110 acres of reclaimed land to the project proponents along with a 30-year concession for tolls? Was there a financial projection of future revenue for both the reclaimed land and the tunnel toll collection? If so, how many billions in profit is the consortium estimated to make? If there is no financial projection, why not and how was it decided to award them reclaimed land in addition to a 30-year tunnel toll concession?
- The TMP puts public transport at a much higher priority than the tunnel. In fact, the TMP consultants diplomatically (given that the tunnel was probably the state government’s idea) suggested that the tunnel would only be something to consider for 2030 and beyond. Why is this being brought forward to “2025-2030” and even earlier now?
- If a tunnel or other cross-channel link is necessary, shouldn’t it be a rail link? A cross-channel rail link is more important given the completion of the dual tracking to Butterworth and the future high-speed rail linking Singapore to KL and Penang.
- Why is the north coast pair road from Teluk Bahang to Tanjung Bunga a priority now? Is it being driven by property development considerations? According to the TMP (and it’s clear to everybody), the Outer Bypass between Farlim and Tun Lim Expressway should be built first instead of the north coast pair road. Why is the state government putting it the other way round?
- Focusing on building roads without addressing the demand for road use will NOT solve the problem. In fact, it might worsen the problem. Have all the highways, tunnels and flyovers in KL and Bangkok solved traffic congestion? If not, why are we going down that path?
- There are two sides to the equation of traffic problem: the Supply Side (building more roads) and the Demand Side (the demand for those roads caused by more vehicles). What is being done to tackle the rising demand for motor vehicles and road space?
- Do we realise that greenhouse gas emissions from road transport is one of the biggest contributors to global warming? How are more highways and a road-based tunnel compatible with the state government’s slogan of ‘Cleaner, greener Penang’? Shouldn’t we be laying the ground work for sustainable public transport now?