GEORGE TOWN: The Penang government has again defended the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1), with Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow saying the state’s “silent majority” wants the project to proceed.
He said based on feedback from the public through town hall sessions, some 80% of Penangites approved of PIL 1, a mega highway project that cuts through the island’s hills and which environmentalists warn could destroy the island’s sensitive ecosystem.
Chow said opposition to the project came “from a loud minority”, adding that the state would continue to engage with them by having independent experts “explain and enlighten where misconceptions are brewing”.
His statement comes after former prime minister Najib Razak said many were against the project as it was too expensive and damaging to the environment.
Najib, in a lengthy Facebook post recently, said PIL 1 would be the most expensive highway in the country at a cost of RM7.5 billion, which could balloon to RM9 billion or RM461 million per km.
If the project was shelved, he said, the money could be used to bail out Felda’s RM8 billion debts with the remaining RM1 billion given as cash aid to farmers and those in need.
The six-lane, 19.5km PIL 1 highway consists of 7.6km of elevated roads and 10.1km of roads tunnelled through the Penang Hill range to connect Gurney Drive in the northeast to the airport in the southeast.
It will allow motorists to arrive at the airport from Gurney Drive in 15 minutes.
Chow today rubbished Najib’s claims, saying the most expensive moniker was “cooked-up and distorted”.
He said the tunnelling and other complex works for PIL 1 justified the price tag of RM7.5 billion, and denied that the cost would escalate to RM9 billion.
The money for the project was funded through the reclamation of three islands south of Penang, which will be ultimately owned by the state, Chow added.
As for the George Town-Butterworth undersea tunnel and three main roads project, Chow said authorities had yet to pay the contractors for a feasibility study report of the tunnel as the report was yet to be finalised.
Chow said it was hence “incorrect” to claim that the state government had paid a total of RM305 million to the concessionaire company.
“The report for the proposed undersea tunnel is currently under review by an independent checking engineer appointed by the state government,” he added.
The projects are part of the Penang Transport Master Plan, which includes a series of highways and transit lines to be built over the next 20 to 30 years at a cost of RM46 billion.
It will be financed through the creation of three artificial islands south of Penang island, which will be later auctioned off to interested parties. The plan has yet to be approved by environmental regulators.
The state, however, is eager to kickstart the PIL 1 highway and the Komtar-Bayan Lepas LRT line at RM8.4 billion.
It has requested for a soft loan of RM1 billion to start reclaiming the islands so that both projects can run concurrently.