An open letter to Dr M on PIL 1

Dear Tun,

We would like to seek your support to compel the Penang government to look for alternatives to the Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) and the North Coast Paired Road (NCPR).

We are pleased that the federal government will not be providing the bridging loan for PIL 1, and we view this as an opportunity to rethink and review the state’s poorly crafted Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).

These highways will cost us in excess of RM46 billion, and foisting this heavy price tag on Penangites and their future generations is nothing short of irresponsible.

We understand the need to ease congestion but we are asking the federal government to find sustainable ways of getting our city and its people moving again. We understand that some congestion alleviation measures are necessary but the transport plan currently in play was mooted by property developers, and therefore lacks transparency and fails to place public benefit as its mainstay.

Anyone with any sense knows that the constant building of highways is not sustainable, and that any number of roads constructed will not be able to accommodate the rising number of road users. More than 85% of our road journeys are by single-occupant cars. We feel that the key to freeing traffic in our city is to come up with an integrated and sustainable network of public transport that suits Penang.

Highways are not only expensive to build but also costly to maintain. There is no reason for us to demand this of our next generation for the benefit of developers, contractors and some politicians.

Even “driving capitals” around the world like Los Angeles are making massive investments in sustainable transportation measures in an attempt to bring about a public transit renaissance. Giving people an all-you-can-eat buffet of asphalt encourages extremely inefficient resource allocation.

We feel that instead of spending this colossal amount of money on a plan that is not sustainable or environmentally friendly, the state should invest in a much cheaper way to move people, Penang people and not personal cars.

Our Penang government needs to understand that our city is more than just cars. Private vehicles are simply a horrendously inefficient way to move people around. A favourite related quote is “adding road lanes to decrease traffic is like letting your belt out to lose weight”.

The state’s dogmatic approach towards building highways and reclaiming land for the three islands as payment has become suspect, and Penangites have been asking for transparency on these transactions for a long while to no avail. The excuses and petty name-calling for those seeking clarity and social justice is nothing short of shameful.

We are shocked at the recent approval by the Department of Environment for PIL 1 despite Penangites providing detailed feedback and points raised on why it is simply not justifiable.

We hope that you can help work with us towards a better and more intelligent solution than simply cutting our hills to build highways, and opening new tracts of land for developers. We know that decreasing traffic congestion is about revising road capacity and increasing mass transit, cycling and walkability.

We are looking to you to help with solutions that will enhance urban-to-urban, urban-to-suburban, and suburban-to-suburban connectivity – and three-lane highways such as PIL 1 and NCPR are definitely not the way to go.

Thank you.

TBRA represents the residents of Tanjung Bungah, Penang.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.