GEORGE TOWN: The Department of Environment (DoE) has given Penang’s Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) the all clear, paving the way for work on the project to commence.
However, the approval came with 56 conditions attached, according to Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow, who made the announcement today.
Work on the project is scheduled to begin next year.
However, in an immediate reaction, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) expressed dismay over the approval. S. M. Mohamed Idris, who heads both groups, said it was “shocking” that the DoE had given the go ahead despite the concerns expressed by various quarters in Penang.
The PIL1 is a six-lane highway linking Gurney Drive to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway. It will pass through several towns, among them Paya Terubong and Relau, before terminating at the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Interchange near the Penang Bridge.
The new highway, designed to serve as an alternative route to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, is expected to cost RM7 billion. It is part of the RM27 billion Penang Transport Masterplan project.
Idris argued that the PIL1 was not a long-term solution to Penang’s traffic woes. “The proponents claim that there will be a dramatic reduction in travel time but then ignore their own analysis that states that the full capacity will be reached as early as 2030,“ he said. At RM7 billion, he added, it was also a waste of public resources.
He said the environmental impact assessment (EIA) also erroneously stated that the project would not affect any heritage structures.
He pointed out that the Por Tay Buddhist School, St Nicholas Home, Penang Chinese Girls’ High School, Shree Muniswarar Temple, the iconic Penang Hill Railway, Kek Lok Si Temple and the Air Itam Dam, all of which were more than 50-years-old and had cultural and historical significance, would be adversely affected.
Idris said a six-lane highway would “become an eyesore, have an adverse impact on parks and forests and ruin the island’s charm”.
Another major critic of the project is Penang Forum member, Dr Lim Mah Hui. Lim wants the chief minister to convince him on three aspects of the PIL1.
“I want Chow to confirm that the new highway can meet the traffic demand for just five to seven years after completion. Then, he needs to tell us if there was an open tender for the project. Finally, the state has to be transparent about the 56 conditions,“ he said.
Chow declined to say what those conditions were when he announced that the EIA had been approved.
“(To us), it is nothing more than the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project that Chow was opposed to in 1998 and was subsequently dropped,“ Lim said.
The international consultant Halcrow had said the PORR could help to ease traffic congestion for only five to seven years.
Lim also wanted Chow to reveal how the project would be financed. “If the state reclaimed land for sale to finance the project, what would the impact be on the value of real estate in Penang if the present overhang in the property market is not addressed within the next six years?” he asked.
He added that failure to address all the concerns would prove disastrous for Penang.
However, civil society group Anak Pinang has come out in support of the state government. Spokesman for the group, Timothy Tye said that by engaging the people, the state had shown that it was keeping its pledge to seek all approvals before launching the project.
“The lengthy approval process reflects the thoroughness of the state’s effort to take into account the concerns raised at various public fora,“ he added.