Described by Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng at the opening of the public townhall as a “big bang solution” that will fully address the current traffic dilemma and, at the same time, change the economic face of Penang, the 50-year Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) has been the talk of town since the state released details for public feedback.
Among the primary concerns raised were the potential environmental, social and economic impact to the island if the proposed Bayan Lepas LRT and the Pan Island Link Highway projects were to proceed. Also on the public’s mind was the impact of the proposed reclamation of two islands in the southern coast of Penang Island as a means of funding for the transport projects, given the unsavory experience of mudflats build-up and foul smell along Gurney Drive after the Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase 1 reclamation exercise.
Over 100 Penangites, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and members of the media asked questions ranging from the potential of turning the southern coast of Penang Island into a second tourist belt with the development of a new smart city to how exactly the PTMP would boost Penang’s economic trajectory.
“I must say, it (the public townhall) turned out well as our queries were answered by the State Government. There was no hiding. It is comforting to know the State Government has given its commitment towards the highest level of transparency and governance of this project for the benefit of future Penang,” said Yu Pow Seng, 52, who attended the event with his family last Sunday.
“I sincerely hope the proposed PTMP projects (Bayan Lepas LRT and Pan Island Link Highway) will go through as residents have been enduring traffic congestion on the island and the Penang Bridge for years,” said Hashimah Hashim, who lives in Sungai Petani and has been using the Penang Bridge for the last decade to get to the island for work.
Asked why she decided to buy her home in Sungai Petani, she replied, “Never would I be able to afford a house in Penang Island with what I’m earning. It’s beyond my means.”
A project for Penangites
Questions were raised on the exact corridor the proposed Bayan Lepas LRT and the PIL highway would pass through to which the answer and commitment given by the State Government was that every effort would be made to optimise the alignment according to various factors including current and future ridership, constructability and potential impact.
“We are in the midst of hearing the feedback from all quarters and all comments will be taken into consideration,” replied state executive councillor and committee chairman for local government, flood mitigation and traffic management Chow Kon Yeow during the Q&A session.
“Nothing is final at this point. Once LRT and PIL highway alignments are confirmed by December, we will hold engagements with the public. The State Government’s focus will be to optimise the LRT and PIL routes to minimise acquisition and relocation,” Chow said.
In answering queries on how the reclaimed island’s land use would benefit the people in general, SRS Consortium Head of Stakeholder Engagements Azmi Mohamad briefed the public during the public townhall about the provision of 30,000 units of affordable homes along with coastal parks, beaches and green spaces to be built on the islands.
“Up to 700 acres of green spaces and connections including designated bicycle lanes and sheltered pedestrian walkways will be provided. Other new facilities will also include a Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing and Exhibitions (MICE) venue, a sports arena, a museum, and a new performing arts centre,” Azmi said.
“There will be a tram line serving the islands, which is part of the master planning of the smart city project,” he said.
“It’s comforting to be told that the reclaimed land belongs to the State Government, and the State Government will have full control over the auctioning of the reclaimed land and the appointment of PTMP contractors. This gives us the assurance that it will be well managed and it’s a project for the people,” Hashimah said.
A boost for the E&E sector
“The LRT project should have been implemented during the opening of the first free industrial zone on the island,” said Jimmy Ong, a factory owner in the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, who looks forward to the prospect of having an LRT station located at the industrial area.
Lauding the State Government’s move to invest on the colossus transport infrastructure investment, Ong said, “We won’t see an LRT or even a new highway in our lifetime if not for the will and determination of the present State Government, hence I support this initiative.”
Among the key points shared by Azmi during the townhall, the PTMP’s primary objectives is to “keep Penang’s economic growth engines humming and moving them up the value chain by expanding the fully-occupied Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone to the south and developing a new smart city.”
Answering Ong’s question on the how the PTMP would improve the state’s economic growth, Azmi said the PTMP is projected to contribute an additional 15% to the Penang’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the first 15 years during its implementation, leading to a further contribution of 64% of Penang’s future growth.
“From the new investments generated, we will create up to 460,000 jobs for locals,” Azmi said.
“Last Friday’s engagement with the business community showed broad-based support for TMP and reclamation,” he said.
According to state investment agency, investPenang, Penang was recognised by the UNIDO Industrial Development Report 2009 as a Top 10 dynamic industrial cluster locations in the world to have demonstrated a successful manufacturing experience among developing economies.
investPenang’s website said underpinning Penang’s success is the presence of a 40 year-strong and efficient supply chain with world class capabilities and a proven track record to support potential investors.
Impact studies to be done
Understanding the concern of the public, it was revealed during the public townhall that various impact studies are currently being carried out to determine marine and environmental impacts, sea current and sedimentation, as well as the potential socio-economic impact to the fishermen community in the southern coast.
Every stage of the approval process will comply with Federal Government regulations,” said Chow, asserting that implementation of the project will follow the most stringent reviews and evaluation, and fulfill the necessary conditions before each step is taken, and independence of the studies is ensured.
All in all, Penangites went back on the rainy Sunday evening feeling relieved, now that the proposed PTMP is out of the closet. With the State Government’s catchphrase of “nothing to hide”, Penangites are looking forward to better days ahead – sans traffic congestion and with a new smart city to boast.
As said by Yu, “The public has a better understanding of the PTMP now. We just hope the project will take off.”