Penang highway tunnel won’t affect hillslopes, says firm

SRS Consortium project director Szeto Wai Loong (right) at the press conference in the Penang assembly complex with Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow (centre). With them is PTMP special purpose vehicle chief Lim Hock Seng.

GEORGE TOWN: The project managers of a proposed highway on Penang island today allayed fears they will blast through hill slopes, following concerns by groups that it may be bad for the environment.

SRS Consortium project director Szeto Wai Loong said they would use controlled chemical explosives to tunnel through the hills without affecting the hill slopes.

He said the RM7.5 billion four-tunnel Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) would be built similar to the Penchala Link and the Bukit Larut projects, which had tunnels bored by using explosives.

An infographic by SRS Consortium showing the benefits of the PIL1.

Speaking at the state assembly complex, he said environmental groups need not worry, as the tunnelling would be a slow process, blasting through the hills “metre by metre” at a time.

Szeto said the contractors would use the “chemical blast” method, which is part of the “drill and blast” tunnelling method, creating a horseshoe shape required to fit the six-lane highway.

“It is not going to be like how they do blasting at quarries. This is a small, controlled blasting.

“I foresee a controlled chemical blasting, so the vibration is going to be very minimal,” he said.

Szeto said any blasting work would require heavy scrutiny and approval by the Mineral and Geoscience Department.

He said the company could only proceed after obtaining the approval from the department and local authorities.

Asked how they would tunnel under the Penang Hill Railway track, he said they would go as deep as 150m. It was previously reported that the tunnel would go 30m below the railway track, which had caused an uproar among NGOs.

Still early stage

At the same press conference, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow thanked former prime minister Najib Razak for his concern over the PIL1. He said all feedback was welcome. Najib had said the highway was too costly given that it would only save 15 minutes of travel time.

Chow said all parties must realise that whatever had been revealed regarding the proposed project was still at an early stage and nothing was set in stone.

Saying traffic congestion was expected to worsen over the years, he asked detractors of the project to give viable alternatives to the highway.

Chow said while a display of the hardcopy Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) would end on Aug 10, the document would still be available online.

Chow also said the Department of Environment, the federal regulator overseeing EIAs, had decided to extend the public feedback period for another two weeks until Sept 7.

A summary of the affected properties along the 20km PIL1 highway.

“There is no final design yet. We will look into the feedback and address the people’s concerns, such as whether the highway will affect their properties.

“As of now, we expect 200 buildings to be affected in the entire alignment of the highway, 60% of which are squatter units and minor structures such as sheds and stores.

“Six quarters of the Youth Park (Penang City Park) will be affected, but rest assured, it is at the extreme fringes of the park.

“Sound barriers will be installed in areas that are close to residential areas,” he assured.

Chow also showed an artist’s impression of the proposed highway alignment, revealing that high traffic roads, such as the Gottlieb-Bagan Jermal-Gurney Drive roundabout section, will have flyovers.

An overview of a proposed giant flyover across Gottlieb and Bagan Jermal roads. Pictured is the Penang Chinese Girls’ School section (on the right) close to Jalan Utama.

Asked how the contractors would build the flyover across the often congested Gottlieb Road, he said a traffic management plan would be submitted by the contractors before work on that section could begin.

“We will minimise inconvenience and impact on communities affected along the alignment. I would like to stress that the current highway proposal is preliminary and subject to refinement.”

The 19.5km PIL 1 will be a strategic bypass that runs along Gurney Drive, Gottlieb Road, Youth Park, Bukit Bendera, Paya Terubong, Sungai Ara, Bukit Gedung, and Sungai Kluang, and then connect to the elevated highway in Bayan Lepas, before linking to the Second Penang Bridge.

The tunnel is set to make up 70% of the alignment, which will also run through Youth Park.

Chow had previously defended the project cutting through Youth Park, saying it could not be avoided.

He had said a long cable bridge would run across the park with very few pillars.

The PIL 1 is part of the larger RM46 billion Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP), which includes roads, light-rail transit and other modes of transport crisscrossing the state.

It will be carried out by SRS Consortium, a project delivery partner which will reclaim three islands south of Penang island to finance the PTMP.