Erosion alert

The extent of damage that can be seen from afar along Section 44 hillslope. - RONNIE CHIN/The Star

FREQUENT users of Federal Route FT185 or the Jalan Simpang Pulai-Blue Valley (Cameron Highlands) stretch are calling on the government to take further measures to ensure the road is safe for motorists.

They want the relevant authorities to do whatever they can to maintain the structural integrity of the road as well as the surrounding hilly terrain to avert more soil erosion or landslides.

Several of them who spoke to StarMetro said the federal road, which saw a partial collapse at Section 44 on Sept 18, was the preferred route for many motorists travelling from the highlands, Kelantan or Perak to other states on the west coast of the peninsula.

Lorry driver, Soh Siew Khoon, 60, who transports produce from Cameron Highlands to Ipoh, said the road was an important thoroughfare.

The FT185, according to him, is safer, better and a more convenient route compared to the Jalan Tapah-Cameron Highlands stretch, known as FT59.

“It takes slightly more than an hour to drive from Simpang Pulai to Kampung Raja, where most vegetable farms are located.

“If we use the Jalan Tapah-Cameron Highlands road, it will take between three and four hours.

“The road (from Tapah) is narrow and dangerous. It’s not so safe to use that stretch.

“I know many drivers prefer using the road from Simpang Pulai, because it is wider,” said Soh.

Works are currently underway to repair the collapsed road at Section 44, where cracks measuring 30m long were detected.

The route is now only open to light vehicles that do not exceed five tonnes, while heavy vehicles have been urged to use FT59.

Soh said the temporary measure that required vehicles exceeding five tonnes to use the Jalan Tapah-Cameron Highlands could have an impact on vegetables prices.

“There will be additional costs incurred since we are using more diesel, driving over a longer distance and taking more time.

“We usually start our trip around 7am from Ipoh but now that we are using the Tapah route (FT59), we have to start two hours earlier,” he explained.

Last month’s incident on FT185 was not the first as soil erosion had previously occurred on that stretch in 2014 and 2017.

Reinforcement and repair works had been conducted both times.

The installation of an early warning system was also put in place for landslides.

In March, the Work Ministry had reportedly said that long-term remedial works would continue.

The construction of FT185, which is also referred to as the country’s “Second East-West Highway”, began in 2001 and was completed in 2004.

The 314km road connects Simpang Pulai, Ipoh to locations like Blue Valley in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, Lojing and Gua Musang in Kelantan, and Kuala Jeneris in Terengganu.

Another lorry driver, who only wanted to be known as Tan, in his 50s, said there was no denying that Section 44 looked “really bad and dangerous”, referring to photos on social media that showed the exposed soil along the hillslopes of that stretch.

“Heavy rains could just be one reason, but I think there could be other factors that caused the movement of soil beneath the road.

“I hope the Federal Government will take the necessary steps to fix the erosion and related soil problems in the area.

“There must be an end to this and it has to be done soon,” Tan added.

Cameron Highlands Floriculturists Association deputy president Wong Seng Yee said the road should not be closed permanently to heavy vehicles.

“It would take lorry drivers a longer time if they were to use the FT59 and then pass through Ringlet town to get to the farms in Kampung Raja,” he said, pointing out that Ipoh was nearer to Kampung Raja than Tapah.

“Perhaps the authorities could consider having a schedule or time slots for both light and heavy vehicles to use the road,” he suggested.

Rain not always to blame

Sahabat Alam Malaysia field officer Meor Razak Meor Abdul Rahman believes that the soil erosion there is partly because of changes in the landscape.

The Section 44 area is under Kinta Highlands, which he described as Rank One or an area highly sensitive to soil movement.

“Any minor disturbances in its surrounding areas will have an impact.

“We cannot always blame the rain,” he said, adding that the forest itself was a natural means to minimise the impact of rain on soil erosion.

Meor Razak said there were some agriculture projects near the affected site and questioned whether the project developers had adhered to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report.

“There should be recommendations in the EIA report on mitigating any erosion or landslide, or to minimise its impact.

“Whether these recommendations were followed, we are not sure.”

The environmental activist also said that he had suggested to the Perak government not to be overly aggressive in developing the highlands.

“I just hope they will learn from the road collapse incident, and stop supporting and allowing more projects at the highlands.

“It is to the state’s disadvantage too when they have to dig into their coffers to repair the damaged areas,” he pointed out.

Perak infrastructure committee chairman Datuk Mohd Zolkafly Harun said the road would not be closed for good.

“It will continue to be the main connecting road to the east coast and Cameron Highlands for all vehicles.

“The Public Works Department is doing repair works now, including installing sheet piles to control erosion, and it will do a stability test to analyse the soil movement there,” he said.

Mohd Zolkafly denied that agriculture projects were affecting the stability of the hillslope, as suggested by Meor Razak.

“All lanes will be reopened to road users once it is safe to do so, which is after the analysis and observation of soil movement and advice from the experts have been obtained.

“Works to repair the hillslopes permanently will also be done and are expected to be carried out in December,” he said.

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