Big-time changes await Penang

The author fishing on a paddleboard at the Pantai Kamloon Recreational Park, near the Muda River. — LO TERN CHERN/The Star

SOMEONE told me he would never drive through the Penang Undersea Tunnel.

“What if it cracks? Seawater would flood it in seconds and drown us all,” he said.

Whoa! Hang on a second there, buddy.

You can congratulate yourself for having a Hollywood-level imagination but no, that is not going to happen.

Cast aside the catastrophic vision of a gigantic cruise ship passing by at low tide, knocking the tunnel with its hull and cracking it open.

You see, the undersea tunnel is underground.

They are going to bore that tunnel 11m to 15m below the seabed and that far below, there will not be water.

Even if an impossible earthquake happened and the tunnel’s super structure cracked, no seawater would seep in because the undersea tunnel will literally be under the sea, not in the sea or on the seabed.

And a senior official of tunnel contractor Consortium Zenith Construction recently told me “the tunnel will be built”, despite all the negative concerns about it before the general election.

You Penangites made your stand known long before polling day and the results of the state seats were predictable from months ago.

What was not predictable is how the state and federal governments are now on the same side.

This has a massive effect on Penang’s future, and I wonder if the average Penangite knows what will happen.

The LRT, the cable car, the water taxis, the new highways, the tram through the heritage enclave and the tunnel are not dreams and aspirations anymore.

They are going to happen. Penang is going to change. Big time.

Some are worried.

Tanjung Bungah folk, for one, are gnashing their teeth over the North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Teluk Bahang to Lembah Permai, which is going to send a big flow of traffic through their for-now-quiet Hillside.

Some people are worried about the tunnel, some think a cross-channel LRT should be done first, but I spoke with one of the planners of the Penang Transport Master Plan and got his logic.

“LRT lines on the mainland and the island must be ready before you build a rail link across the sea.

“You can’t just make that rail link and leave it to taxis and buses to handle the flow rate of LRT commuters. The jams caused by the flow of people will be monstrous,” said the planner.

I lived in Bagan Ajam when I first arrived in Penang in the early 90s. It is a nice, mature neighbourhood with wide roads, unlike the somewhat cramped streetscape on the island.

I can imagine Bagan Ajam and the vicinity turning into a bustling middle-class suburb, just 7km from Gurney Drive and Pulau Tikus, with the existence of the tunnel.

So I am ready to say that the tunnel will bring fresh life to north Butterworth.

And while I am highlighting that side of Penang, let me point out something all the way at the northern border of Seberang Prai, a spot just 18km’s drive from Bagan Ajam.

The Pantai Kamloon Recreational Park, right beside Muda River, is a former quarry that over 20 years ago was turned into a park.

The scenery here is gorgeous, and there is wildlife to boot. I went kayak fishing there recently and saw lots of monkeys — not your average macaques; these are smaller and had much furrier heads. They munched on vegetation contentedly while watching me paddle around the ponds.

The park is abandoned and the once-beautiful boardwalks are utterly rotted away. It was managed by Penang Regional Development Authority — a federal agency.

Now that voters have placed state and federal governments on the same side of the political divide, we have the right to be more demanding.

And I for one, hope the state will enhance the quality of life in north Butterworth by giving us a nice, new park on this beautiful place.

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