Conditional approval for Penang’s Pan Island Link highway unacceptable

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Are more highways the way forward for Penang?

Aliran is utterly shocked and disappointed over the granting of a conditional approval for the environmental impact assessment report for the proposed Pan Island Link highway in Penang.

The Department of Environment approved the report with 56 conditions despite numerous shortcomings highlighted by civil society groups and concerned individuals.

The proposed six-lane highway will be one of the most expensive highways around on a per kilometre basis. Reported estimates for the total cost range from RM7.5bn to RM9.6bn for the 19.5km route, which works out to RM385m-RM492m per kilometre.

The mind boggles at the land deals that will be involved in financing this highway (as well as the equally expensive elevated light rail transit system).

Apart from the exorbitant cost, the PIL will be environmentally disastrous. No amount of “conditions” can mitigate for the damage it will inflict on the island.

The highway construction involves blasting on sensitive hill slopes to create four stretches of tunnels totalling 10.2km. The tunnels will pass through fault lines and come close to the Air Itam Dam. Unfortunately, Penang’s record of monitoring projects along hill slopes has been less than inspiring.

The highway will also degrade two immensely popular parks in Penang – the Penang Youth Park and the Sungai Ara Linear Park.

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The chief minister has described the conditional approval as a major milestone in addressing the traffic problem. But highways are never a long-term solution for traffic congestion. The reprieve from congestion will only be temporary and traffic jams will return in five to seven years.

Aliran cannot fathom the short-sightedness of the state government over this project. Under the original Halcrow masterplan strategy, the same amount of money to be spent on the Pan Island Link could have been used to create a public transport network for the entire state.

So what is driving such unwise decision-making? Who will bear responsibility for any major disasters, environmental degradation, cost overruns and construction accidents arising from this project?

In the long run, it is the people of Penang and future generations who will bear the brunt of this disastrous decision.

Aliran reiterates its call to the Penang state government to not proceed with this highway project.

Aliran executive committee

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Ravinder Singh

This is the developers’ project for their gains and the state government is just the facilitator helping them to push the project through in the name of “development”. How “independent” were the experts who prepared the EIA? If they were paid by the developers / contractors who will be benefiting from the projects, then the EIA is unacceptable as it would have been skewed to favour them.