Penang State exco tomorrow should immediately make public the Halcrow Penang Urban Transport Study Report and clarify whether Penangites will be paying toll for 25 years for PORR just to get from one traffic congestion to another congestion after the end of its utility life-span in less than five years

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Tuesday)DAP welcomes the assurance given by Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon yesterday that there is nothing in the Penang Outer Ring Road Project (PORR) which “cannot see the light of day “ (Kwong Wah Yit Poh) and calls on the Penang State Government to make public all studies on Penang’s traffic problems and all documentation related to PORR to underscore his claim, in particular:  

  1. The Halcrow Penang Urban Transport Study commissioned by the Penang State Government in 1997 – a comprehensive review of transportation policy and transport provision in the state – which raises questions about PORR’s transparency, viability and compatibility with sustainable transport and whether the RM1.02 billion 17.8 km PORR would have an utility life-span of less than five years to create one or two Midas at the cost of imposing a 30-year toll burden on the people of Penang.
  2. The expired and outdated 1996 Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report for PORR.
  3. The detailed bid by the PORR concessionaire Peninsular Metroworks Sdn Bhd and the various studies supporting the bid, including breakdown of costs of construction; projections of traffic volumes and toll collections for the 30-year PORR concession.
  4. The new and updated EIA report for PORR to replace the earlier 1996 EIA report which was valid for only two years.  

The people of Penang have been told that the state government had taken measures to keep the PORR toll low and reasonable, reducing the originally proposed toll by 41% from RM1.70 per toll station to RM 1 by sacrificing 31 ha of prime state land worth RM200 million to Peninsular Metroworks Sdn Bhd and 500 acres of reclaimed land on the sea front off Gurney Drive which would be worth some RM3 billion.  

The people cannot just accept without question the bald claim of the State Government that it had successfully reduced the proposed toll rate of RM1.70 to RM1 for each of the four PORR toll stations by sacrificing 31 ha of prime state land the 500 acres of reclaimed land off Gurney Drive, as they are entitled to facts and figures to establish.

Firstly, why PORR cannot be toll-free like the Jelutong Expressway (JEway) whose concessionaire was given  the right to reclaim 132 ha of land for property development, but was not allowed to impose toll or given any prime state land.  

Secondly, was the concessionaire being reasonable to ask for RM1.70 toll at each of the four PORR toll stations or was it merely an inflated and extravagant claim so that both Peninsular Metroworks Sdn Bhd and the State Government can both look good for knocking it down to RM1?  

Thirdly, what are the estimated gross profits that will accrue to Peninsular Metroworks Sdn Bhd from the 30-year PORR concession – both from toll collections as well as the 31 ha prime State land and 500 acres of reclaimed land off Gurney Drive?  

Tsu Koon should explain why for such a massive project as PORR, concrete date and studies on it are so wanting, and he should give a full list of the studies which the State Government had commissioned during his 12 years as Penang Chief Minister into the traffic congestion nightmare of the Penang Island – apart from the Halcrow Report on Penang Urban Transport Study 1998 and the ancient Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA) study more than two decades ago in 1981.  

What the people of Penang should be most concerned is whether PORR will only have a utility life-span of less than five years, and for the next 25 years, Penangites will be paying toll just to get from one traffic congestion to another congestion – as is the case in some tolled roads in Kuala Lumpur, the “privilege” to pay toll to get into the traffic jam! 

The Penang State Exco tomorrow should take the decision to immediately make public the Halcrow Penang Urban Transport Study 1998 and clarify whether Penangites will be paying toll just to get from one traffic jam to another after the expiry of effective five-year utility life-span of PORR after its completion.  

According to the Halcrow Report, the PORR would ease traffic flow and save travel time significantly after its construction. But after eight years, traffic volume would increase so fast that it would overwhelm the capacities of existing roads resulting in reduced vehicle speed and longer travel time. 

The Halcrow Report states: “(There would be) significant improvement in travel conditions following the introduction of the outer ring road. However, these benefits will be eroded over time, such that by 2010, network conditions will be worse than current base year levels.” 

In other words, the nightmare of the Penang traffic congestion is likely to be back to square one not in eight years but probably less than five years after the completion of PORR, as the Halcrow Report was based on the assumption that the PORR would be ready by 2002 and that the third link would have connected George Town with Butterworth with the Northern International Airport on two reclaimed Kedah islands up and operating!  

What Penang needs is an efficient public transport system based on sustainable transport policy, as PORR  is not a medium-term let alone long-term solution to the traffic congestion nightmare on the island. 

For medium and long-term improvements, the Halcrow report recognized that a sensible option in promoting continued and sustained growth for Penang would be for the “car adapting to the city” in the case of Singapore, rather than the ‘”city adapting to the car” in the case of Bangkok. 

The JICA Urban Transport study in 1981 had projected the per capita vehicle ownership for Penang to be 6.1 persons per car and 5.7 persons per motorcycle by the year 2000. However, these levels were surpassed even before 1990 and ownership levels in Penang are comparable to developed countries with 3 persons per car. Thus, in the year 2000, Penang had 321 cars per 1000 persons compared to 96 for Singapore and 49 for Hong Kong.  

While the total road length in the state increased by about 38% between 1990 and 2000, the total registered vehicles in the state increased by 107%. Vehicle density thus increased by 1.5 times while the number of vehicles per 1000 persons more than doubled.  

The Halcrow Report recommended that “measures to enhance the bus system should be pursued with great urgency”, but this has clearly been ignored by the State Government.  

The State Exco tomorrow should give immediate attention to the drawing up of a viable public transport master plan that can be implemented in the next two years to achieve the reduction of traffic congestion, considering options like an efficient public bus system, the monorail, LRT, etc, so that Penang can be a role model of sustainable transportation instead of being the latest victim of motorization and the destruction of architecture, heritage and culture.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman