Who’s in charge of the Federal Highway now?

While motorcyclists have been riding outside of their dedicated lanes for years, the problem is now chronic, with riders using the main lanes as though they rightly belong. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
While motorcyclists have been riding outside of their dedicated lanes for years, the problem is now chronic, with riders using the main lanes as though they rightly belong. ― Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

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KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 5 — Ubiquitous motorcycles on the main carriageway of the Federal Highway are drawing questions as to why authorities are not taking action, but an examination of the regulations that apply have revealed a legal labyrinth instead.

Already a jurisdictional warren that spans several federal agencies, state police departments and local councils, the confusion over which is specifically in charge of the country’s first highway has also been magnified by the abolition of its tolled status on Jan 1.

The Federal Highway had been under PLUS Malaysia until then, but returned under the jurisdiction of the federal government upon the new year.

While motorcyclists have been riding outside of their dedicated lanes for years, the problem is now chronic, with riders using the main lanes as though they rightly belong.

When asked why more enforcement was not being taken against the motorcyclists, Kuala Lumpur Traffic Police explained the jurisdictional complexities involved.

Kuala Lumpur Traffic Enforcement and Investigations Department liaison officer DSP Shafie Daud told Malay Mail that they needed to ascertain the status of the highway and whether it has been gazetted against the use of motorcyclists before any enforcement can be done.

Unless the use of the dedicated lanes are gazetted, he said motorcyclists may not actually be required to ride on these.

“We need to check the status of the highway first, whether it has been gazetted or not, before we can take any actions or investigation.

“As far as I know, the majority of the Federal Highway is under Selangor state police’s jurisdiction. We only oversee a short stretch of the highway,” said Shafie.

When asked which authority was responsible to gazette the Federal Highway’s motorcycle lanes, Shafie said he believed it was the local councils.

In this case it would be: Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), Petaling Jaya City Hall (MBPJ), Subang Jaya Municipal Council (MPSJ) and Klang Municipial Council (MPK).

Councils at odds on Federal Highway ownership

When contacted, however, MPK councillor Datuk Abdul Ghani Pateh Akhir and his MPSJ counterpart Chew Yew Ken rejected this and said the highway is under the Malaysian Highway Authority (MHA), and local authorities cannot gazette it.

Abdul Ghani shed further light into the convolution of which specific federal agency was in charge, revealing that this morphed from one to another stretch by stretch.

“Let’s say from MidValley Megamall. It’s known as Jalan Syed Putra and it is a federal road under Public Works Department (PWD). When it reaches the Old Klang Road area, it becomes the Federal Highway and that belongs to MHA.

“This stretch goes all the way to Bukit Raja in Klang, and after that, the road belongs to federal [PWD] again. They have the same responsibility, but different ownership,” he said.

Abdul Ghani also shared a clever “trick” to visually navigate the complex issue of jurisdiction.

“Look at the lamp posts: if you see the make of the lamp posts changing, that means it has a different owner,” said Abdul Ghani.

Chia pointed out that the Federal Highway stretches far beyond local councils’ purview.

He insisted it was classified as a highway under the MHA, which precluded MPSJ and its ilk from regulating its use

“Local councils have no authority to gazette it, just like we can’t gazette Kesas or other highways,” he said, referring to the Shah Alam Expressway.

MBPJ councillor Derek Fernandez said the highway should rightly fall under the PWD, noting it was the agency that authorised the motorcycle lane upgrades in the first place.

“Federal Highway, inclusive of the motorcycle lane is under PWD’s jurisdiction. Together with the (works) minister, they have full power over it. They were supposed to gazette the whole highway, but couldn’t because of the upgrading works on the lane.

“I don’t know why it’s taking so long to complete, it’s been years since it first started. It’s certainly a hazard to allow motorcycles on a main highway when there is a dedicated lane for motorcycles,” said Fernandez.

Large sections of the motorcycle lanes on the highway have been cordoned off since a RM3.13 million upgrade began in 2016, but closures along the stretch are a near-permanent feature.

MHA not in charge anymore

While his agency was repeatedly cited as having authority, MHA director-general Datuk Ismail Md Salleh said it now only oversees 2km of the highway.

“We are no longer in charge of the entire highway since the transfer of authority from PLUS back to Works Ministry effective Jan 1.

“Technically PWD now covers the entire Federal Route 2, which is from the Kota Darul Ehsan Arch until the end of Federal Highway. Prior to that point, it is under Sprint and DBKL,” Ismail said.

He added that he was unsure if the local authorities were notified of the change.

The issue of gazette also became more muddled when Ismail conceded to uncertainty on whether the Federal Highway’s main carriageway was ever gazetted against motorcycle use.

“We need to check again because there was one time they wanted to... I’m not really sure but (when it was managed by) PLUS we did not gazette it. We did speak with PWD but we didn’t do it yet.

“At this moment, there’s no one gazette saying that ‘they (motorcyclists) must go there’,” said Ismail.

Although there are no express regulations to force motorcyclists onto their dedicated lanes, Ismail said MHA “encourages” the use of the lanes.

When asked why related authorities were not formally informed of the power transfer, Ismail said he did not see the necessity.

“The news appeared in newspapers, we did the handover, the other authorities should know about it.

“Why should a letter be sent out? The whole nation knows the story and sometimes this is just bureaucratic paperwork. Our job is to do public service,” said Ismail.

At the time of publication, Malay Mail could not successfully get PWD road facility maintenance branch director Zulakmal Sufian to respond.

One authority said, however, that it could pursue motorcyclists for entering the highway even if this was not gazetted.

Selangor Traffic Investigations and Enforcement Deputy Chief DSP Sahimi Husin the Road Transport Act and the Traffic Rules were applicable regardless.

“In the case of motorcyclists on the Federal Highway, the offence falls under Section 79(2) of the Road Transport Act 1987,” said Sahimi, citing the section that covers the failure to observe posted signs.

While he was sympathetic to riders who may miss the many entries and exits that now exist due to the upgrades, he said this did not mean police could not issue fines to those caught.

* Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Shafie Daud was Kuala Lumpur Traffic Police Chief. It has since been corrected.

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