Road project will strengthen Penang’s fragile hills, says contractor

Consortium Zenith Construction CEO Fong Lai Kiat (right) addressing issues raised by residents. With him are Zenith executive director Lee Chee Hoe (centre) and company senior vice-president Hamdan Abdul Aziz.

GEORGE TOWN: The contractor building three roads through the hills of Penang today said one of the projects will likely strengthen the fragile slopes against landslides since the best engineering measures will be put in place.

Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) chief executive officer Fong Lai Kiat said the attention given to stabilise the slopes and other engineering methods will likely make them stronger than their natural state.

He cited the example of one of the three roads, the 5.7km Air Itam to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway (LCE) bypass, which will have 20,497 soil nails and 570 drains built along the stretches crossing the hills.

Seri Delima assemblywoman Syerleena Rashid (second from left) speaking to Greenlane Park resident Tan Wei Loon at the end of the session. Jelutong MP RSN Rayer (left) looks on.

“I want to make a proclamation here that, with this, it is safer than the natural slope. And it costs millions of ringgit to do this.

“So, I leave it to any of you living along the affected area to make your own judgement on whether you feel safer or threatened,” Fong said in a briefing to Seri Delima constituents on Saturday.

The briefing was held at the Karpal Singh Learning Centre, Bukit Gelugor.

According to engineering firm Maccaferri, soil nailing is used on natural or excavated slopes to reinforce them through the insertion of concrete tendons.

Construction of the bypass is expected to start in March next year, as part of the Penang undersea tunnel and three main roads project that will cost a total of RM6.3 billion.

The three main roads (formerly three paired roads) stretch from Air Itam to the LCE Expressway (5.7km), Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang (also known as NCPR) (10.53km), and Jalan Pangkor-Gurney Drive junction to LCE Expressway (4.1km).

The undersea tunnel has yet to begin and is pending a feasibility study.

Road to snake around apartments

Earlier, Fong revealed key characteristics of the Air Itam-LCE link for the first time. He said the road will be a two-lane dual carriageway with a width of 26m.

The road, which will be 70% elevated (3.3km), will have four interchanges at Lebuhraya Thean Teik, Jalan Bukit Gambier, Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah and the LCE (George Town-bound), coming out between the Fisheries Department and Marine Department offices.

From the Air Itam side, the road will begin at Jalan Kampung Pisang, rising across Lebuhraya Thean Teik near the police barracks and to the lower slopes of a hill behind the All Seasons Place Mall.

It will then bend near the Boulevard apartment to make way to the densely populated Green Lane neighbourhood. It will pass the following apartments: Kingfisher, Jay Series and Greenlane Heights, Greenlane Park, Delima Palace, Krystal Heights.

It will also pass near the landed properties at Changkat Delima 3.

There will be a flyover across Jalan Bukit Gambier (near Mutiara Ria) towards Kampung Kastam and another flyover over Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah crossing over to the Teachers’ Training College and ending up at the LCE.

Fong said the elevated road will snake around high-rise apartments in the Green Lane and Bandar Baru Air Itam area.

He said the likely distance between the buildings and the road deck will be at least 30m and, at the farthest, 100m away.

Fong said noise barriers measuring 6m in height will be installed at selected stretches similar to the ones used along the Klang Valley MRT line.

He said the noise will be reflected downwards to the road, instead of outwards to the apartments.

A Zenith presentation slide showing the number of reinforcements to be placed in the Air Itam-LCE road project.

The construction work will only begin once the company’s Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan (ESCP) are approved by the Department of Environment (DoE), he added.

Fong said the DoE has imposed 59 conditions in approving the project on Nov 7 last year, saying they are lengthy, meticulous and in “long paragraphs”. He said it was up to the state government to disclose the conditions.

Fong also said the road alignment was not chosen by the company but set by the Penang government when it opened the tender in 2013.

He said the bypass road is urgently needed, as traffic studies have found the roads in Bandar Baru Air Itam and the Green Lane areas to have worsened.

Fong said by 2020, Penang Island would record an “F” Level of Service, which means gridlock will be frequent. He said there are currently “over 1 million” cars on the island.

Residents watching a presentation by Zenith on the Air Itam- Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass road project at the Karpal Singh Learning Centre.

As for the concern that many residents were unaware of the project coming up in their neighbourhood, he said residents within the 5km radius of the project were engaged since 2014.

He said a total of 741 respondents were surveyed and a majority wanted the project to go on. He said it was natural to miss some people as the survey was merely a sampling of the population.

As for the social impact, he said the project is expected to create 7,900 jobs and 19,700 indirect jobs in the building of all three bypasses. He said research showed it would have a multiplier effect on Penang’s economy, contributing RM2.19 million to it.

‘Will it be like Bukit Kukus?’

At the question-and-answer session, residents raised concerns about not being informed of the alignment of the road earlier, despite the contractor claiming it had interviewed residents.

A resident, who identified himself as Steven, said he lived 2km away from the Air Itam-LCE road project but was not aware of the project until reports emerged in the media of late.

Another resident, Boo, said he was worried that the Bukit Kukus incident might occur again at this stretch, as it was similarly elevated and also built on hillsides.

Greenlane Park resident Tan Wei Loon (standing, right) asking a question at the forum.

Greenlane Park resident Tan Wei Loon questioned the experience of Zenith in road building and also asked why only five people were surveyed on the project in January 2014. He also asked if it was possible to reroute the road elsewhere.

In response to the questions, Zenith executive director Lee Chee Hoe said the Bukit Kukus incident has spurred stricter rules concerning hill development.

“I do not want that (Bukit Kukus) to happen again, we will make sure our contractors do a first-class mitigation…and please, we are not here to touch on Bukit Kukus, we are not the state government.

“As for rerouting the road, we have no say in this as we are fulfilling the tender put in place by the state government,” he said.