Focus on Penang public transport, not highways, says expert

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Are more highways the way forward for Penang?

The proposed RM8bn Pan Island Link highway in PIL1 is not a viable proposition and neither is it sustainable in the long run. Mustafa K Anuar reports.

The importance of public transport in Penang should not be overshadowed by the current controversy over the highway construction under the proposed Pan-Island Link 1 (PIL1) project.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s transport system expert, Associate Prof Ahmad Hilmy Abdul Hamid, said that concerned Penangites should not be easily distracted by the discourse on highways under PIL1.

Estimated to cost more than RM7.5bn, PIL1 is expected to be implemented under the first phase of the massive RM46bn Penang transport masterplan.

Highways, Hilmy said, were not the way forward as they only attracted more traffic, and before long there would be traffic congestion. “Just look at Kuala Lumpur, with its many highways and roads, and the consequent traffic jams,” he said. In contrast, he added, London does not need to add more roads in the city because it has a good and reliable transport system in the form of buses and trains.

He said therefore PIL1 was not a viable proposition and neither was it sustainable in the long run.

Hilmy said the focus now should be on how to make Penang’s public transport efficient and attractive to the general public. “We must ensure the public a ‘door-to-door convenience’ when using public transport,” he said, referring to the need for the authorities to provide feeder buses or erect parking lots at designated areas so that users are not left in the lurch after using public transport.

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Furthermore, he said, it was projected that 15% of Malaysia’s population by 2020 would be in the elderly category, who would then need public transport instead of driving their own cars for the purpose of mobility.

Now that the project is at its environmental impact assessment stage, Hilmy said that it is time to call for a serious review of the transport masterplan before making any commitment to the highway project.

The proposed route involves a 19.5km, six-lane PIL1 highway that will connect Gurney Drive to the second Penang Bridge via Penang Hill, Paya Terubong and Sungai Ara.

A 10.5km tunnel would be bored through a number of hills including Penang Hill and would affect a few parks that are popular among the general public. The tunnelling in this project has become one of the contentious issues, particularly among civil society groups in Penang, as it is feared that it could trigger serious environmental implications.

Hilmy questioned the rational of investing in PIL1 as the completion target would take a long time – between five and seven years. He also said an upsurge of air and noise pollution would arise as a result of more vehicles on the proposed highways.

Source: The Malaysian Insight

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