THE feasibility study for Penang’s proposed undersea tunnel linking the island to the mainland has been completed and will be submitted to the state government soon for a final decision.
A source familiar with the progress of the different components in the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) said the report is now being checked by an independent consultant engineer.
“The consultant engineer should be able to finish checking in March. Whether the study can be revealed to the public or not will be up to the state,” he told The Malaysian Insight.
The tunnel linking Persiaran Gurney on the island and Bagan Ajam on the mainland is undertaken by Consortium Zenith Constructions Sdn Bhd.
The project is part of Zenith’s RM6.3 billion contract that includes building three other major roads – the Tg Bungah-Teluk Bahang bypass (Package 1), Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway-Ayer Itam by-pass (Package 2), and Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway-Persiaran Gurney by-pass (Package 3).
Last year, Zenith senior executive director Lee Chee Hoe said it is also presenting a third bridge option to the state government.
“The consultant engineer will also look into this third bridge idea in lieu of the undersea tunnel,” the source said, adding that the bridge option came about last year after the change of federal government.
Penang already has two bridges and ferry services linking the island and the mainland.The first bridge and ferries are congested during peak hours, while the second bridge is underused as most commuters find it too far for most motorists travelling to the island from southern Kedah, and northern and central Seberang Prai.
Penang mulled an additional link in 2011 to ease the congestion and Zenith won the tunnel and three major roads projects in 2013.
Progress on the tunnel has been slower with priority placed on the three roads to ease the worsening traffic congestion on the island. The EIA (environmental impact assessment) reports for all three roads have been approved.
By the middle of this year, work on Package 2 is expected to begin before Package 1 kicks off next year, and followed by Package 3, which will be half-land tunnel and half at grade, the source said.
Approvals pending for LRT, PIL1
Meanwhile, on other PTMP components undertaken by SRS Consortium, applications for approval by federal agencies are still pending, the source said.
SRS is undertaking the light rail transit (LRT) from George Town to the airport in Bayan Lepas; and the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) – two projects that have come under fierce criticism by local civil groups under Penang Forum and others.
“We are still applying for the railway scheme for the LRT. The application was sent in 2016. Things are moving now.
“We have met with the transport minister and APAD (Land Public Transport Agency). We are waiting for the approval.
“Without the approval, we cannot proceed to do the detailed surveys and designs or send in the EIA report for the LRT. It is only after everything is approved that SRS will be able to call for tenders.”
On the PIL1 project, he said the EIA report had been sent and approval is expected within the year.
“We are following up with Putrajaya. Once the EIA is approved, we can start with the detailed design.”
Impact on fishing
The source also acknowledged that there were concerns that the Penang South Reclamation (PSR), a massive project to reclaim three man-made islands off the southern coast of the island to fund the multi-billion ringgit PTMP, would pose a possible impact on the livelihood of fishermen.
“There is concern that the 1,821ha reclamation will destroy mudflats, which are breeding sites for some marine life.
“The consultant handling the assessment is detailing out mitigation measures, such as installing artificial reefs and releasing fish seeds,” the source said.
The reclamation is the most crucial part in the PTMP. The plan is to auction off the islands to raise funds to pay for the master plan components. If it fails to take off, all talk about the PTMP would be academic.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow also defended the PSR project for its importance in the state’s future growth.
The state also plans to use the reclaimed islands for future developments like housing and economic activities that will generate jobs for the people.