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7 reasons why PTMP is wrong

Eric Cheah writes PTMP will not only cause massive degradation to the island but it will likely bankrupt the state as well as cause scarcity in food resources..

Article first published on 27/10/2019 https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2019/10/27/7-reasons-why-ptmp-is-wrong/

There are many reasons why Penang should switch to reverse gear where the RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) is concerned. The following are seven cogent reasons:

The Halcrow Plan was adopted by the Penang government as the state’s Transport Master Plan in 2013 but was displaced.

The present PTMP is a gross deviation from the Halcrow Plan.

Here’s a little background on the Halcrow plan. As civil societies in Penang had in 2009 pushed for a transport master plan, Halcrow, the British transport consultants, were appointed in 2011.

After almost two years of field research, extensive interviews and detailed study, the Halcrow folks were paid RM3.2 million.

The key difference is: Halcrow focused on public transport, PTMP focused on highways.

The PTMP we know today came to shape through a request for proposal (RFP), not an open tender. Those winning the projects are project delivery partners (PDP), where the state government ultimately owns the project, with those who win the RFP becoming PDPs.

The bid from SRS Consortium, consisting of Gamuda Berhad (60%), Ideal Properties (20%) and Loh Poh Yen Holdings (20%), was accepted in August 2015.

Their proposal was radical and radically deviated from what the Halcrow folks came up with.

The PTMP, as we know it now, includes the undersea tunnel and the three paired roads, to be separately delivered by Consortium Zenith Consortium Sdn Bhd (Zenith)

PTMP is way too expensive

Based on current quotations for the LRT (close to RM10 billion) and Pan Island Link or PIL (RM9.6 billion), PTMP appears to have ballooned past the initial estimate of RM46 billion and will likely increase further.

This is in contrast to the Halcrow Plan which, even after including new transport methods, would cost RM10 billion, covering the entire state with proper public transport.

This RM10 billion is just about 20% of the PTMP.

The key contention with the PTMP is its flawed funding model. Three islands measuring 4,500 acres will be created and later sold to the highest bidder.

If, say, 3,000 acres were to be successfully sold some years from now, the mean price would have to be RM500 per sq ft in order to garner about RM65 billion.

RM65 billion includes the cost of the PTMP and the cost to reclaim the islands.

This will be impossible to attain, considering all factors.

PTMP will devastate the environment

In the PTMP, a highway called the Pan Island Link 1 highway appears to be a risky project.

About 10km of the 19.5km road will be tunnelled through the Penang Hill range. This new highway crosses three fault lines, near the Penang Hill Railway route, Paya Terubong and Relau, according to soil scientist Kam Suan Pheng.

The risk is real.

The reclamation of three islands, called the Penang South Reclamation (PSR), is the other concern. It will utterly destroy marine ecosystems and the livelihood of thousands of fishermen.

Years of research in the Philippines have shown that reclamation creates areas with stagnant water. This leads to an excessive algae bloom, followed by a massive loss of dissolved oxygen and inevitable fish kill.

PSR, in effect, could eliminate most of our remaining fish supply, thus affecting food security.

In fact, if PSR goes ahead, the first step involves the obliteration of all the mudflats (coastal wetlands) along the southern coast fronting the three proposed islands.

What this means is that even if a reclamation is abandoned halfway, permanent ecological damage would already have been wrought.

All told, at least 3,000 trees will be chopped to make way for PTMP. The above is only the more obvious damage.

PTMP is not progressive in terms of urban transport development process

Instead of bringing Penangites a better public transport system, PTMP will focus on redesigning cities for increased car use.

All over the developed world, cities are moving to improve public transport in order to move people and not cars.

Making roads easier for pedestrians to use and improving cycling lanes will be common features along with the promotion of efficient and sustainable modes of transport like buses on dedicated lanes  or Bus Rapid Transit and modern trams.

Congestion charges will also help to reduce car usage. Model cities are Amsterdam, London, Vienna and Singapore. South Korea’s Cheonggyecheon even dismantled an elevated highway to replace it with a BRT scheme.

With PTMP, it will be impossible for Penang to achieve 40% usage of public transport. Only 3% use public transport in Penang.

The Braess paradox tells us that where there are more roads and highways, it will cause even more people to drive cars. Research has shown most new roads become jammed up again in an average of seven years.

PTMP ignores mainland Seberang Perai

Whereas Halcrow encompasses transport development on the island and the mainland, PTMP suffers from the fatal flaw of ignoring the mainland for the next two to three decades. This is an injustice which can only be corrected by reinstating Halcrow.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had said “the future of Penang is in Seberang Perai” but PTMP is going in the opposite direction. Is the mainland to play bridesmaid forever?

PTMP lacks transparency

The first paired road to be built by Zenith is supposed to kick off anytime soon but the 40,000 residents in Island Park and Island Glades, which it will affect, have been mostly ignorant of this highway as consultation has been minimal.

For Zenith Package 3, which will be a two-layered tunnel for the long section running from Pangkor Road to Sungai Pinang Road, consultation has been almost non-existent. Most people think that this is an elevated highway.

Currently, steps are being taken by the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) to build the Mount Erskine Underpass, which will go beneath Gottlieb Road and emerge on Burmah Road near Adventist Hospital.

Originally, the cemetery land was supposed to be acquired for this underpass but the plan has changed. There are now several households drastically affected by land acquisition for this underpass and they are merely being told that the underpass is much needed for better traffic flow.

However, is this underpass a preparatory step for PIL which will be an elevated highway where it goes through Gottlieb Road and its construction will almost certainly cut across the Mt Erskine-Burmah Road artery for residents in the north?

PTMP, through PIL, will pose a threat to the Air Itam Dam

At RM9.6 billion, not only will PIL 1 be the most expensive highway in Malaysian history  but its environmental impact assessment (EIA) proudly declares that the impact of tunnelling will be “medium to high”.

The EIA also states: “The construction of tunnels may cause a deformation of the soils that may trigger a collapse and subsidence. Areas that intersect with fault zones are highly fractured and vulnerable to collapse.

“This can damage both the work under construction and existing nearby structures such as condominiums, the Kek Lok Si Temple, the Air Itam Dam and the Bukit Bendera Complex.”

As the dam can hold up to 2.6 million tonnes of water, we are rightly concerned for our safety because a breach into this earth dam’s wall, whether during blasting and drilling for the highway tunnel or anytime thereafter, will cause water to roar down like a tsunami from a 700ft elevation to a hapless populace below.

Conclusion

PTMP will not only cause massive degradation to our island but it will turn the dam into an existential danger and it is likely to bankrupt the state also. Food security will also be under threat as our fish and fishermen will face decimation of life and livelihood, respectively.

The only sensible way forward is to return to Halcrow. For Penang to thrive and not go under, Penangites must demand nothing less than this.

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