Mount Erskine by-pass road: Shifting jams from one junction to another

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Penang Hills Watch (PHW) would like to refer to the press release by the Penang Island City Council’s Management Services Department (Jabatan Khidmat Pengurusan) dated 18 November 2019 regarding the earthworks in Mount Erskine, Tanjung Tokong.

PHW had highlighted this hill-clearing activity in its report to the Penang state government in September 2018 (Page 7, No. 60), showing photographs and Google Earth imagery evidence of the clearing having started in late November 2017.

PHW received a written response from the city council on 28 December 2018 stating that “mitigation works” were being carried out at the site, which is government land. In this response, there was no mention of the purpose of the earthworks.

It is only from the council’s recent announcement that it was made clear that the earthworks are associated with the construction of a road on hilly land to ease traffic congestion due to new high-rise residential development in the vicinity of Persiaran Halia 3.

We are therefore puzzled why the road construction project has been protracted without signs of progress while the slopes have been exposed to the elements for almost two years. As this road is being built on government land, shouldn’t the Penang state government set a good example by minimising the environmental impact of the construction by ensuring the least damage is done within the shortest exposure time?

This is particularly in light of the recent statement by the State Executive Councillor for Public Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation, Zairil Khir Johari, of the alarmingly high level of non-compliance (85%) with the erosion and sedimentation control plan by contractors.

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We laud the promise by the state to enact a by-law that allows for stiffer fines for non-compliance with the control plan.

However, encroachment into hilly areas, even for public interest projects like road infrastructure, poses the risk of soil erosion, mud floods and landslides and must be avoided by all means.

The road construction project in Mount Erskine is a case in point. This stretch of road at a hilly area is meant for localised traffic dispersal to avert the congestion that has built up along the Halia highway.

The diverted traffic using the new by-pass will flow along the stretch of Persiaran Halia 3 beside the Mount Erskine market to meet Jalan Mount Erskine lower down the road.

This would only shift the traffic jams from one road junction to another, brought about by new high-rise and high-density developments in the Persiaran Halia 3 area.

As more high-density development projects creep up slopes, the solution to mitigate the resulting traffic congestion seems to be building ‘backdoor’ by-pass roads through gazetted hill land.

The Penang state government must consider better land use and transportation planning strategies rather than resorting to ad-hoc solutions such as this.

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