Proposed road projects in Penang not a solution to traffic problems

The thrust of a rational transport strategy for Penang must be on reducing private vehicles instead of encouraging them, say the Consumers Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

Many Penangites may not be aware that the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the proposed three major road projects in Penang has been displayed for public comments since 19 June 2017.

Normally, EIA reports will be displayed for a month and another two weeks will be allocated to submit comments. But not in this case, although it involves a large population of Penang.

Many of those potentially affected by this project may not even know that the road will be very close to their homes, offices, businesses or that it will cut across forested areas and rivers. Some of the impacts are irreversible, such as clearing of forests, cutting of hills and acquisition of houses and land.

What is at stake here?

The following is a brief description of the projects as stated in the EIA:

Package 1: The North Coastal Paired Road from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang covering a length of 10.53km of which 2.275km is elevated. The last 3.3km traverses through Bukit Kerajaan Forest Reserve and Teluk Bahang Forest Reserve and ends at the connection to Jalan Teluk Bahang, near the Sekolah Kebangsaan Teluk Bahang.

Package 2: The Air Itam–Lebuhraya Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu Bypass covering a length of 5.7km of which 3.8km is elevated. The proposed roads are dual two-lane carriageways (four lanes). The route from Lebuhraya Thean Teik skirts around a forested and hilly area towards Jalan Bukit Gambir.

Package 3: Persiaran Gurney–Lebuhraya Tun Dr Lim Chung Eu Bypass covering a length of 4.075km with 2.025km double-deck elevated road and 2.050km double-deck tunnel.

Land use along the alignment

A total of 238 plots of land will be acquired for the three road projects. These involve 3.34 hectares (ha) in two permanent reserved forests, 34.5ha of state land forest, 16.5ha of forested land, private land, state and federal land. The total area acquired for Package 1 is 600,555 square metres. Package 2 involves the acquisition of 216,606 square metres, and Package 3 involves 9,792 square metres.

The land use distribution along the road corridor (right of way – ROW) in Package 1 covers 348,651 square metres of forest or nearly 52 per cent of the total area. Package 2 ROW covers nearly 45 per cent of forested area (165,334 square metres). Package 3 runs through the town centre consisting of residential, commercial and industrial areas.

Forests and hills

The alignment of Package 1 passing through the Teluk Bahang forested areas will include the removal of one endemic and unique species of tree i.e atuna penangiana (kerusing gasing) which is listed as vulnerable. Among other flora, a total of 253 species of trees has been recorded here.

Removal of this vegetation will bring about habitat degradation, fragmentation, transformation or complete loss.

Package 1 and Package 2 traverses through hilly areas with a maximum elevation on 159m (near Moonlight Bay) and 110m (near Menara Greenview) respectively.

Landslides and faults

The road construction will involve cutting of slopes and rock blasting. According to records of the Jabatan Kerja Raya, landslides have occurred near areas along the alignment of Package 1 and Package 2.

It is stated in the EIA report that according to the feasibility srudy Report, the alignment for Package 1 crosses over several inferred geological faults, for example, the Sungai Satu Faults and the Sungai Kelian-Sungai Pinang Faults and spans over the Sungai Siru Fault.

Rivers and flood-prone areas

The proposed project will traverse through various river catchments. A total of 21 rivers may be affected due to earthworks for the road project. This will lead to soil erosion and sedimentation of the rivers downstream if proper mitigation measures are not in place.

Package 1 will cross seven rivers and the largest catchment areas are Sungai Batu Ferringhi (11.546 square kilometres) and Sungai Teluk Bahang (12.273 square kilometres). Package 2 crosses part of Paya Terubong and Sungai Dondang towards the Gelugor area. Part of the alignment falls within the Sungai Pinang and Sungai Gelugor river basins, which finally drains into the sea.

Package 2 and Package 3 fall within a flood-prone area. The entire alignment for Package 3, which includes the tunnel component, falls within the flood-prone area of the Sungai Pinang catchment.

Sungai Pinang is a river highly prone to overflowing, and historical data of water level since 1985 show that the maximum water level recorded each year till now surpasses the danger level of 2.70 metres, except for 1988, recording 2.47 metres but way above the warning level of 2.10 metres. The highest flood occurred in 1995 at 3.79 metres.

Noise, air pollution, vibration

Residents along the proposed road corridor will be affected by air pollution, dust, noise and vibration. The EIA states that residents in high-rise buildings will no longer see clear sky but in place, an elevated road passing near their homes which will change the visual aesthetics in the area.

Need for proper public consultation of people affected by major roads

The project proponent ie the state government should hold a public exhibition at major residential areas that will be affected by the road alignment because many of them may not know about these proposed projects. Genuine public opinion should be sought, and the state government should not merely rely on the survey carried out by EIA consultants.

More roads not a solution to traffic

Besides the environmental, health and socio-economic impacts arising from the construction of all the three roads, CAP and SAM had stated numerous times that the road projects are not needed.

A number of studies have shown that, while new road projects or road widening may offer temporary relief in the short run, it is no real solution to traffic congestion.

New roads create new traffic. Once a new road is fully operational, it will invariably attract more traffic. While some of this may be traffic diverted from more congested roads, the rest will be, new motorised traffic as a result of an increase in the use of cars.

The three major road projects proposed now amount to the revival of the Penang Outer Ring Road (Porr) project served on a different plate. Porr then was vehemently opposed by the people of Penang.

Now the people have to decide whether they want more highways traversing through environmentally sensitive areas and residential areas. Public comments to the Department of Environment are vital.

We reiterate that Penang does not need more road projects that are going to compromise sustainable transport options. There must be a comprehensive and rational transport strategy for Penang. The thrust must be on reducing private vehicles on the island instead of encouraging the same. We reiterate that Penang does not need more road projects that are going to compromise sustainable transport options.

Say no to more roads.

SM Mohamed Idris is president of the Consumers Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia.

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