17,000 briefed on transport master plan, says Penang CM

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow showing a dossier of the 965 engagement sessions on the Penang Transport Master Plan. With him are state executive councillors Yeoh Soon Hin (left) and Chong Eng (right).

GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government today revealed it had reached out to 17,000 people since 2015 to explain details of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) after it came under heavy scrutiny by civil society groups here.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the 965 sessions held in the past three years were likely the “country’s largest engagement sessions” ever held over any infrastructure project.

The RM46 billion PTMP involves highways, LRT lines and other modes of transport to be funded by reclaiming three islands to the south of Penang Island.

The Penang government owns the project, with SRS Consortium winning an open tender to be the project delivery partner.

Pictures showing briefing sesssions with the Residents Association of Jesselton on July 28.

An islandside LRT project and a highway have been proposed to take off first.

Chow said the briefing and engagement sessions on the PTMP were mostly held with residents, businesses and fishermen affected by the project.

He said 588 fishermen from the Permatang Damar Laut and Gertak Sanggul areas had attended the briefing sessions and the state received feedback, largely concerning the project to reclaim islands.

Chow said the government had gone one step further by opening up the “request for proposal documents” to the public for six weeks from Jan 16 to Feb 28 last year.

“When we receive a letter of concern from the residents or groups, we will immediately engage with them by sending a team over to give a clear picture.

“At this rate, we are likely to touch 1,000 briefing sessions very soon,” he said at Komtar today.

The debate on PTMP restarted recently after the state revealed details to tunnel through sensitive hilly areas to build a highway and this became a rallying cry for civil society groups.

The highway in question, the 19.5km Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1), has caused much unrest among residents and groups afraid of the environmental impact as the tunnel will use the “drill and blast” method, using 1,000 tonnes of explosives.

The highway will link Gurney Drive in the northeast, through the hills of Air Itam, Paya Terubong and Sungai Ara, to a spot close to the second bridge in the south.

The Penang government has since allayed fears saying the project will only proceed with the approval of federal environmental regulators.

An engagement session with Teluk Kumbar fishermen recently. Over 600 fishermen in Penang were given a briefing on the reclamation of islands.

The state government also said stringent environmental considerations had been put in place from the proposal stage.

Chow said if the PIL 1 was approved, work on the highway will begin at the last section, which is Bukit Gedung in Bayan Lepas.

He said once this stretch was completed, it would relieve massive traffic congestion in Sungai Ara, Bayan Baru and Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.

Chow said a public townhall meeting on the PIL 1 would be held next month, coinciding with the extension of the public feedback period to Sept 24.

He said as of now, two projects were the state’s priority — the Bayan Lepas-Komtar LRT line costing an estimated RM8 billion and the PIL 1 highway costing an estimated RM7.5 billion.

He reiterated that the PTMP remains a proposal and nothing would take off until the final nod was given by the transport and environment regulators in Putrajaya.

He also clarified PTMP’s RM46 billion price tag was just an estimate as this depended on any change of alignment or other changes deemed necessary after receiving feedback from the public.

“We hope the necessary approvals to implement the PTMP would be considered as soon as possible to enable Penang to maintain its economic competitiveness and provide a sustainable future for Penangites.”