Stress on the roads: Kota Samarahan pays the price of ‘development’

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Dawn blues: Motorists crawl along the congested Kota Samarahan-Kuching highway - Photograph: Vanessa Gillian Naen

With no access to public transport, Kota Samarahan residents have to buy cars and grapple with congestion, fumes, stress and financial constraints. Vanessa Gillian Naen reports.

Roosters crowing, birds chirping, misty open roads – those were the sights and sounds – music to my ears – that I woke up to each morning before school.

Nine years ago, I had moved to Kota Samarahan at a time when the place was about to develop into a district. Back then, shady green trees with thick trunks next to peat swamps lined the wide grey highway of Samarahan.

I used to wake up as early as 5.30am and leave for school by 6am due to the distance between my home and school. Back then, only a few cars could be seen on the road.

Today, I wake up to the depressing sounds of honking and the nauseating smell of fumes from passing vehicles.

Kota Samarahan is fast expanding: the population is growing and housing estates filled with terrace and semi-detached houses are mushrooming. Many homes have at least three cars each – which contributes to massive traffic congestion.

Peak hours on the road start at 6am, ending at 9am, sometimes even up to 10am for no apparent reason. Insane! Then, there is the evening crawl back.

Imagine having to wake up so early with dark puffy eye bags, take a quick shower, neglect breakfast, even miss out on a piping hot black coffee in the rush to get out of the house before the traffic starts to torture your soul.

Kota Samarahan is well-known for its massive, green roundabouts in which you can almost build a stadium! To get to where I live, I have to pass five such massive roundabouts.

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The congestion itself is about five roundabouts long. Cars, motorcycles, even red, green and yellow trucks choke the roads. Stress! Not even deejays Ean and Arnold, chattering away over morning radio, are able to distract me from the fact that I am well and truly stuck in traffic.

Rapid ‘development’ – but no public transport

Kota Samarahan was once governed by a district council, which was then “upgraded” to a municipal council due to the rising number of residents – about 200,000 now – and growing by 6% per year.

It is also home to many students from major universities such as Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, Universiti Teknologi Mara and the Tun Abdul Razak Teacher Training Institute. Other institutions dot the landscape: the National Public Administration Institute (Intan), an industrial training centre and the Sarawak Heart Centre.

No surprise then that students, civil servants and industrial zone workers probably make up half the population here. Imagine an extra hundred residential areas in Kota Samarahan: it’s enough to drive you crazy.

Now imagine no access to public transport connecting Kota Samarahan to Kuching. No buses, no trains, nothing! The only mode of transport: cars. No wonder, in many households, each family member owns a car.

Welcome to Kota Samarahan!

Stress and frustration

With Kota Samarahan facing major congestion on the roads every day, many have to deal with stress and frustration early in the morning. They have to worry about time constraints, sleep deprivation and financial issues, all aggravating the stress.

In the long run, this constant stress is unhealthy for the mind. Imagine having to wake up as early as 5am – and then having to wait until 8am to clock in for work. What are we supposed to do until 8am? Having to wake so early so often means less sleep for many residents.

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Spare a thought for those who earn the minimum wage of RM1,100 and who do not own a car, and with no public transport around. Their only choice? Grab. Picture this: RM24 daily, commuting to and from work in town, five days a week. That’s almost RM500 just for Grab. What about those working further from town on a seven-days-per-week shift? You do the maths.

The rising number of cars due to the expanding population, the lack of public transport and low wages are the issues that Kota Samarahan residents have to grapple with.

People here are finding it difficult to cope with this sort of “development”: the congested surroundings and poor financial status make it tough for them to survive – especially students who are not earning any income.

The local government is trying to increase the number of lanes on the roads. It is also planning to build a train station to connect Kuching to Kota Samarahan – which is expected to take five years to complete. But progress has been slow, and residents are fuming as the ongoing road construction worsens congestion especially during peak hours.

How long more?

How long will we have to bear all this? Can we wait another five years?

Or should I move back to Batu Kawa in Kuching, my previous hometown. Back then, when I was seven, the roads in Batu Kawa were so clear I could play next to the main road without worrying about cars passing.

Oh wait, there’s traffic there now as well.

Vanessa Gillian Naen is an undergraduate student majoring in politics and governance at a local university. She recently attended an Aliran writers’ workshop with the theme “Writing for Change in New Malaysia”, where she wrote this piece.

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Simon Tan

How about car pooling, bas sekolah, van kilang or grab share?