Penang gears up to solve traffic woes

  • Business
  • Saturday, 01 Sep 2018

Chow: The PTMP is based on a realistic 50-year plan which will help the state to transform the public infrastructure and road networks.

Detailed designs on first phase of transport masterplan likely to start in first half 2019, and call for work packages’ tenders in second half

VISIT Penang and you will get a taste of not only its world-famous food, but also its traffic jams and congestion that has been the bane of the state for years. For a city that has seen rapid growth, thanks to its industrialisation and idyllic setting, the flock of tourists visiting the state and its large number of residents have caused time-sapping traffic that costs money. This, in turn, has infuriated the residents and tourists alike.

With Kuala Lumpur building a rail-based public transportation system, the question has been for some time whether other states will receive their own systems.

For Johor, there have been suggestions of rail projects, and lately, the state has voiced its support for a proposed bus rail transit (BRT) project for Iskandar Malaysia.

Penang, though, has recognised the need for improved public transportation for years, with previous chief minister Lim Guan Eng unveiling the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) in 2014.

That project has not been able to get off the ground since then, but momentum has now swung in favour of building it. It has, however, met with resistance from some local residents and NGOs, but Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow has stressed that the comprehensive transport masterplan is essential to solving the state’s growing and perennial traffic woes.

“The PTMP is deemed as a catalyst for Penang’s economic future. Improving the transport infrastructure has been acknowledged as being absolutely necessary for Penang to remain attractive as a destination of choice for investors and tourists.

“The PTMP is seen as a vital plan to attract more foreign direct investment, create more and better jobs and improve liveability and quality of life. There is generally positive feedback from the business community on the need to come up with an economic stimulus for Penang. There are also distinct aspirations voiced on the need to balance development and preserve the environment,” he tells StarBizWeek in an e-mail interview.

What the plan essentially calls for is the construction of a 30-km light rail transit (LRT) line that plies through the spine of the state and a parallel road system that is built way underground in the hills of Penang.

The linear lines are said to go hand-in-hand, as one is not only able to transport large numbers of passengers along its rail system, but the 20-km Pan Island Link 1 (PIL 1) will also serve to disperse traffic flow between Komtar and the three man-made islands, or the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) south of Bayan Lepas.

“The PTMP is based on a realistic 50-year plan which will help the state to transform the public infrastructure and road networks. The PTMP will achieve the government’s target of 60 (private):40 (public transport) mode share,” he says.

The concept of a transport masterplan for Penang was first drafted by Halcrow, but critics say it is for a period of 20 years. Halcrow’s proposal reportedly favours the BRT and trams, but implementing these will mean making Penang’s roads, already cramped for space, even narrower and possibly making conditions for driving even more unbearable.

The new PTMP replaces that and looks at a longer timeframe to cater for Penang’s transport needs.

“Moving people solely on public transport is not realistic. While the capacity for public transport is provided, roads need to be added to meet the increasing demand for private vehicles.

“The Georgetown FIZ Bayan Lepas corridor has the highest travel demand, with the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway (LCE) already overloaded with a Level of Service F – forced flow.

“The LCE is currently Penang’s only spine road. There is a need for a new second spine, PIL 1, to relieve the congested LCE,” he says.

To meet the public transport demand along the congested corridor between Komtar, Macallum, Jelutong, LCC Terminal and Bayan Lepas FIZ, Chow says Penang needs the Bayan Lepas LRT (BL LRT).

“This will form the main backbone of the public transportation system, as it will provide connectivity within the island, and to the mainland,” he says. “The BL LRT cannot be the substitute for the LCE.”

Chow says the BL LRT links Georgetown to the Penang International Airport, passing by a corridor with the highest trip demands (Komtar, Macallum, Jelutong, LCC Terminal and Bayan Lepas FIZ).

“This forms the main backbone of the public transportation system and provides future connectivity of transport networks within the island and to the mainland. The long-term travel demand (15,000 passengers per hour per direction (PPHPD) along this corridor requires an LRT system and not a monorail, which has a lower capacity (7,000 PPHPD),” he says in response to whether a monorail could be used instead of an LRT.


Solving congestion

The PTMP is now being undertaken by a joint-venture (JV) company called SRS Consortium Sdn Bhd. SRS Consortium is a 60:20:20 JV involving GAMUDA BHD, Loh Phoy Yen Holdings Sdn Bhd and Ideal Property Development Sdn Bhd. The company was appointed by the Penang government as the project delivery partner or PDP for the implementation of the PTMP.

The plan will see an LRT and the PIL 1 being constructed, but it is the road that has attracted much consternation among residents of the state.

For Chow, the PIL is an integral part of the PTMP.

“As urban development takes place, it is inevitable that the number of private vehicles (cars, lorries and motorbikes) increases as well. While the usage of public transport increases, the number of private vehicles on the roads will also increase in tandem, hence, the 60:40 mode share.

“Penang has only one north-south central road, the LCE, which is currently overloaded. The central hilly terrain forces all traffic eastwards along the already congested local roads (Jalan Tg Tokong, Jalan Paya Terubong, Jalan Tun Dr Awang) to the LCE.”

Penang has been a victim of its own success. As demand for housing and development increases over time, much of its development is concentrated on the east coast of the island, which has increasingly been hard-pressed for land to allow further development in the state.

It is, however, fortunate to have development concentrated along a single coastal corridor, as it makes it straightforward to build a single-line LRT track as opposed to Kuala Lumpur’s web-like network of rail projects. But cramping more onto less has brought its fair share of problems to the state.

“New developments will worsen this congestion. Hence, there is a need for a second link to relieve the congestion on the LCE,” he says.

“PIL 1 will be a new bypass that forms the second link with a ring traffic dispersal system connecting North Coast Paired Road (NCPR), Gurney Expressway, the LCE, Penang Airport and the first and second Penang bridges. There will be five interchanges at strategic locations for traffic dispersal (Gurney Utama, Paya Terubong, Tun Dr Awang and the LCE). With PIL as the second ring link, the load on the LCE will be dispersed.”

Chow also says that no heritage areas will be affected by the BL LRT and PIL 1. “The project is subjected to Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment (DEIA) approvals, and all necessary mitigation measures will be implemented as per DOE (Department of Environment) requirements.”

Should the approval process go according to plan, Chow expects work on detailed designs to start in the first half of 2019, and call for work packages’ tenders in the second half of 2019.

The target is to start construction in 2020 and the PSR will take 10-15 years for reclamation in stages for the three islands. The BL LRT and PIL 1 will take about seven to eight years to complete. “The BL LRT, PIL 1 and PSR are in the first phase. The rest will be staged according to travel demand,” he says.


Funding the project

Funding for the project will be crucial and Chow says the final amount will only be known after all the approvals have been obtained, detailed designs completed and work packages tendered out.

“In the meantime, the state will consider requesting a soft loan from the federal government to expedite the implementation of the PTMP,” he says.

It has been reported that the state is looking at around RM1bil in the form of a soft loan from the federal government to get the project going.

Although the headline number for the PTMP is RM46bil, the first phase, which is the LRT and PIL1, is estimated to cost about a third of that amount.

As for the overall funding of the project, that will likely be done through a long-term sukuk programme.

Having the project go ahead is also great help to the construction industry which have been hurt by the cancellation of many mega projects in the country.

The payback of the money raised to start the PTMP, however, come from the state itself. The PSR, where 4,500 acres of land will be reclaimed on the southern coast of Penang, will consist of three man-made islands. Island A will be 2,300 acres in size, B will be 1,400 acres and the last island will be 800 acres. It is said that the size of these three islands will be larger than Subang Jaya in Selangor.

“The PSR is different from other reclamation projects in Penang because the reclaimed land is owned by the state.”

The state has missed out on capitalising on available land when it gave previous reclamation projects (Seri Tanjung Pinang and The Light) to private developers. The PSR, Chow says, is very similar to the successful Urban Redevelopment Authority model in Singapore.

“The PSR land belongs solely to the state government (ownership and management). The proceeds from the PSR is expected to fund the cost of the PTMP,” he says.

Chow says the state can look at how planning on an open canvas of land can help drive up the value of land. The development of land in Iskandar Malaysia has shown what is possible for the PSR.

“With careful and meticulous planning over an extended time period, the land can be monetised to its full value. For example, land value in Iskandar realised a compounded annual growth rate of 27% for the last 10 years,” he says.

That will give the state hope that the sale of reclaimed land can be used by the state as a future source of money not only to pay for its needed transportation, but also to pay for other development plans the state may have in the future.

Apart from paying for the project, the land will give the state one valuable resource, which is land itself. Given how Penang island is running out of land for safe development, open spaces and infrastructure (space for roads, etc), land scarcity has resulted in too many ad-hoc and hill slope developments.

“The Georgetown heritage zone is also under pressure and quality of life is threatened. The shortage of land for affordable housing results in escalating property prices,” he says.

Having ownership of three large tracts of land also allows the state to sustain Penang’s primary economic engines: the electrical and electronics (E&E) and services (tourism, business process outsourcing, etc) sectors.

“Over the last 40 years, the E&E sector has focused primarily on computer chips and medical equipment. The global E&E industry is projected to grow at 30% per annum.

“Penang will need land to cater for the next generation of E&E – Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, 5G-enabled devices, etc.

“Similar to the E&E, the tourism industry needs new attractions and to move up the value chain (tourism products including medical tourism). In Singapore, world-class tourist attractions like Marina Bay and Sentosa were successfully developed on reclaimed land.

“As such, it’s vital to address the sustainable growth of the economic engines in Penang, as it will serve to attract and retain highly-skilled talent and entrepreneurs for the long term, especially for the next 40 years,” he says.

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