Hold referendum on undersea tunnel, says Penang PKR rep

Kebun Bunga assemblyman Jason Ong Khan Lee says the state should focus on ferries to improve connectivity with Butterworth and reduce congestion on the Penang Bridge. (Facebook pic)

GEORGE TOWN: A PKR assemblyman today raised an objection to the state’s plans to build more roads and a proposed undersea tunnel and said the focus should instead be on improving public transport services.

Jason Ong Khan Lee (PKR-Kebun Bunga) said the tunnel project would only result in more cars on the road and worsening congestion in the long run.

He said, ideally, the state should be focused on upgrading its fleet of ferries to improve the connectivity of the island and Butterworth to reduce congestion on the Penang Bridge.

Ong said while the ferries were a short-term and cheaper measure, in the long run, the government should wean the people in Penang off private car use and provide incentives to encourage everyone to use public transport.

“Roads and highways will not reduce traffic, just add to them. Public transport is the only way.

“I am not speculating about this but this is based on research and genuine concerns by the people of Penang,” he said in his debate at the state assembly today.

Satees Muniandy (DAP-Bagan Dalam) interjected, saying not all public transport projects have been as successful as the New York Metro and the London Underground systems.

He said despite having such public transport systems in place, the number of private cars had continued to rise over the years in tandem with population growth.

“Roads and public transport projects have to be carried out at the same time. Why worry about the undersea tunnel now when it will only be ready in 2027? I support the tunnel as it will bring growth to Butterworth, my constituency,” he said.

Ong said comparisons could not be made with big cities like New York and London as they had a very high ridership on transit lines whereas Penang’s population was only 1.75 million.

At this point, state executive councillor Phee Boon Poh (DAP-Sungai Puyu) stood up to say those who objected to the undersea tunnel were trying to worsen Butterworth’s connectivity problem.

He said Butterworth had long been neglected by the federal government, and was a victim of “geopolitics”, as most infrastructure projects were carried out in Perai or Batu Kawan.

Phee said the people in Butterworth had a high carbon footprint, as most had to drive out to Perai to access the Penang Bridge to head to the island.

He said if the undersea tunnel was built, it would alleviate the congestion on the bridge and reduce travel time for the people in Butterworth.

“Just imagine the Penang Bridge is closed to all traffic for one day over some safety concerns. It will put the entire Penang Island traffic in a gridlock.

“All traffic would have to travel to the second bridge in Batu Kawan,” he said.

Ong then told Phee that he should look at the long-term effects of having a large car population, which would stifle growth and paralyse the state with traffic congestion.

Hence, he said the larger Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) ought to be reviewed as many NGOs and Penang residents were concerned over the massive impact it would have on people’s lives.

Ong also called for the Detailed Environment Impact Assessment (DEIA) to be conducted again by an independent party so that a true picture could be obtained.

“We do not want our future generation to inherit our mistakes and debts through bad projects. Our lives will be impacted by these projects,” he said.

This enraged Chris Lee Chun Kit (DAP-Pulau Tikus), saying not everyone was against the PTMP, but “only certain individuals”, alluding to the Penang Forum, an outspoken NGO.

“Kebun Bunga, is this the voice of Penangites or just a few people’s wishes? Why didn’t they contest in the election? And also, why weren’t you against the PTMP when you were campaigning?”

Satees agreed with Lee, saying the “concerned individuals” in question were not the majority voice of Penang residents.

“These are the same concerned individuals who campaigned for a candidate in Tanjung Bungah who only got over 100 votes,” he said in reference to a Parti Rakyat Malaysia candidate who obtained 122 votes in the polls.

Ong said Penang residents were not against the PTMP but merely wanted more scrutiny of the projects that affected their lives.

“Let’s have a referendum, whether they want this project or not.”

The tunnel-roads project was awarded to a consortium through an open tender by the state government in 2013.

The proposed 7.2km undersea tunnel will connect George Town’s Pangkor Road and Bagan Ajam in Butterworth.

The “three main roads” stretch from Air Itam to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway (5.7km); Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang (10.53km); and Jalan Pangkor-Gurney Drive junction to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway (4.1km).

The proposed RM46 billion PTMP involves a series of highways and transit lines, to be financed through the creation of three reclaimed islands to the south of Penang Island.