Ban heavy vehicles until hill slope audit is carried out, says expert

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s transport expert Associate Prof Ahmad Hilmy Abdul Hamid.

GEORGE TOWN: A transport expert has called for an audit of all hill slopes following the landslide on Tuesday which killed four Myanmar workers.

Until this is done, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Associate Prof Ahmad Hilmy Abdul Hamid said heavy vehicles should be banned from using the stretch of Jalan Batu Ferringhi where the landslide had occurred.

Ahmad Hilmy, who specialises in transport systems, said the incident at a resort, in which earth came crashing down on the workers building a retention wall, had exposed weaknesses in the soil’s foundation.

He said vibrations from passing heavy vehicles could weaken the earth and road foundations, despite one lane closed to facilitate repairs on the hill slope.

“As always, we only react to incidents rather than plan to avoid them. Some maintenance department should have monitored the slope conditions, with respect to the loading on the road.

The three areas (circled) on Jalan Batu Ferringhi and Jalan Tanjung Bungah where cracks were reported in 2015 (Anil Netto blog pic.)

“Heavy vehicles should be banned (until an audit to ascertain the safety of the slope) because vibrations will over time result in loose earth and weakening of the road foundation,” he told FMT.

The Public Works Department (PWD) has closed one of two lanes in the 50m stretch to carry out sheet piling on the hill slope. The work will take three to four weeks.

Ahmad Hilmy proposed a ferry or barge service to transport heavy vehicles wishing to go to Batu Ferringhi and beyond. He said the state government could build a temporary landing area for the vehicles.

“It would be just like Langkawi as many heavy items are transported by sea,” he said.

He also said Rapid Penang, which plies the Jalan Batu Ferringhi route, should use smaller buses.

Public Works Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said PWD had experts to determine safety issues.

“Jalan Batu Ferringhi is a federal road and PWD has experts to determine safety.

“As of today, sheet pile materials and machinery have been delivered to site and work is starting.

Cracks on Jalan Batu Ferringhi near the army camp. (Anil Netto pic.)

“Our priority is to stabilise the portion of the first road that was made unstable due to the irresponsible actions of others,” he said in a text message to FMT.

Meanwhile, activist Anil Netto said that in 2015, a civil engineer had alerted him over cracks appearing at three separate areas on Jalan Batu Ferringhi and Jalan Tanjung Bungah.

He asked if the road was able to accommodate heavy traffic with high-density properties mushrooming in Batu Ferringhi.

“Was the road designed to handle the present volume of traffic? Did those densities exceed the low density allowed for this tourism belt under the then Penang Structure Plan (PSP)? Did that original road design envisage road-widening?” Netto asked.

He said higher density could turn the tourist belt into a “primary development corridor” instead of a “secondary development corridor” as laid out in the PSP 2005-2020.