CM: Lost potential will cost Penang more than RM7b for highway

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow arrives at Upper Station as he launches the Penang Hill Festival at Penang Hill April 16, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow arrives at Upper Station as he launches the Penang Hill Festival at Penang Hill April 16, 2019. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, April 16 — The harm to Penang’s economic growth if it does not get the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) would exceed what the highway will cost, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow told the project’s detractors today.

He said the RM7 billion PIL1 could not be considered profligacy if it alleviates Penang’s worsening traffic congestion.

“It is not a waste, we need this highway; if we are to give in to the comments of certain groups not to build the highway, can you imagine the terrible traffic conditions of Penang in 2025, 2030 and 2035?” he said during a press conference at Penang Hill today.

Chow described Penang’s traffic problems as critical and worsening.

“Without this project, it will lead to economic losses as traffic congestion will lead to lower productivity, with traffic jams, tourists will not come, investors will not come,” he said.

He was responding to Penang Consumer Association (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) president SM Mohamed Idris who accused the state government of wasting public funds by building the 19.5km highway.

He claimed the highway will not resolve traffic congestion on the island in the long-term, saying it would hit its capacity by as early as 2030.

Chow dismissed Mohamed Idris’s position as isolated and said there were other studies conducted by professional and qualified consultants that supported the viability of the project.

The chief minister also conceded that the project may affect the environment and communities in its vicinity, but said mitigating measures will be taken.

On the two groups’ claims that public feedback and views were not considered when the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for the PIL1 was approved, Chow insisted the Department of Environment (DoE) had deliberated these during its review.

“The DoE had given the approval for the EIA which is valid for two years from the date of approval and it is with 56 conditions,” he said.

Chow also answered Mohamed Idris’ challenge for him to disclose all 56 conditions, revealing today that these include an environmental management plan, the submission of various monthly and quarterly reports to the DoE and the appointment of environment officers, among others.

Yesterday, the Penang chief minister announced that the DoE had approved the EIA for PIL1 on April 11 with 56 conditions.

The approval meant that the state can go ahead with detailed design for the project and land acquisition.

Work on the project is expected to start in July 2020 and is expected to complete by June 2026.

The PIL1 is a 19.5km highway that will form a second north-south spine road to improve traffic congestion on Penang island and will consist of 7.6km of viaduct sections, four tunnel sections totalling 10.1km in length and embankment sections totalling 1.8km.

PIL1, which links Gurney Drive to Bayan Lepas, will have six interchanges linking all major hubs, integrating with the north coastal paired road, Gurney Drive paired road, Air Itam and Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway Bypass, first and second Penang bridge, proposed third link and Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway.

It is a key component of the state’s ambitious RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

SAM and CAP immediately issued a statement yesterday in response to protest against the approval and asking for PIL1 to be cancelled.