PENANG: When veteran politician Dr Lim Chong Eu (now Tun) spoke about building a bridge linking Penang Island to Butterworth on the mainland way back in the 1950s and 60s, there were many sceptics.
They felt that such a massive infrastructural undertaking may not be feasible as no such bridge had been built in the region before.
But Dr Lim, who went on to become Chief Minister of Penang between 1969 and 1990, persevered with the idea of this important linkage.
Finally on April 13, 1985, a 13.5km bridge, with four towers in mid-span and standing 33m above water, was completed within four years after the federal government pumped in RM850mil for the project.
Before it was built, people mainly relied on the ferry services to cross the Penang Strait, making the conception of the bridge one of the most important developments in the history of Penang.
The bridge was designed by a Penangite, the late Tan Sri Prof Chin Fung Kee, a well-known authority on geotechnical engineering and a former acting vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya. He opted for the cable-stayed concrete girder of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge instead of the steel-tied arch in the style of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Penang Bridge, which has carried millions of vehicles and passengers since it was opened to the public on Sept 14, 1985, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Over the past 25 years, it has contributed significantly to the development of Penang both as a tourist and industrial centre, said a spokesman of Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd, the concessionaire responsible for managing, operating, upgrading and collecting toll from the bridge under a 25-year concession from Aug 15, 1993 to May 31, 2018.
He said that with the expansion on the Penang Bridge’s third lane, which opened in August last year, the bridge can now accommodate 155,000 vehicles a day compared to 120,000 before the expansion project.
“The new lanes are designed to reduce travelling time during peak hours from 20 to 11 minutes,” he said,
adding that the entire length of the bridge has three lanes going each way.
The Penang Bridge was extended by an extra 4.8m on both sides. There is also a 2.0m-wide motorcycle lane.
To ensure smooth traffic flow, 24 toll lanes had been built of which 10 are for motorcycles, taking into cognisance this popular mode of transport in Penang as about 30,000 motorcycles pass through the bridge daily, he said.
Being an iconic symbol for Penang, he said the bridge, which ranks as the longest bridge in Asia and fifth largest in the world, also plays host to the annual Penang Bridge Run, a popular athletics event since its inception.
From a historical and construction perspective, Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second prime minister, had initiated the idea to set the process moving to build the bridge in the early 1970s.
The bridge was planned during the term of the third prime minister, Tun Hussein Onn, in the late 1970s. In April 1982, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the country’s fourth prime minister, sank the first pile to officially kick off the construction of the project.
On Aug 3, 1985, Dr Mahathir drove across the bridge in a red Proton Saga, carrying the national flag at the opening ceremony. By his side was his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali, and in the back seat were Dr Lim, the then-Works Minister Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu and the then-Proton chairman, Tan Sri Jamil Jan.
In terms of engineering feats, the total length of piling for the bridge is 648km, equal to the distance from Butterworth to Johor Baru. It can withstand earthquakes up to 7.5 on the Richter scale.
Of the entire length of 13.5km, 8.4km of the bridge is above water.
True to Penang’s motto of “Penang Leads”, the bridge’s toll plaza operator was the first in Malaysia to obtain MS ISO 9002 certification. It was also the first to introduce toll payment by Contactless Smart Card.
To monitor traffic flow and bridge security, the PBSB spokesman said the company has established the Penang Bridge Communication Centre (PBCC), a comprehensive monitoring centre equipped with 24-hour closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed at 24 locations.
The spokesman said Penang Bridge is also equipped with 12 emergency telephones (ET) at 1.2km intervals on bridge lay-bys and the main span. This facility allows communication between ET call box and the control centre at PBCC.
In addition, the 24-hour bridge patrolling vehicles handle minor breakdowns along the 12 lay-bys on the bridge. Beside the 24-hour patrolling and handling minor repairs, the patrol teams are also equipped with towing facilities.
“The tow trucks are being placed on standby at both sides of the bridge during peak hours to expedite the response and evacuation times,” the spokesman said.
Penang Bridge also operates an Online Traffic Information Management System to provide real-time information on the traffic conditions on Penang Bridge via SMS.
“It gives the public the latest information within minutes to help them plan their journey,” he said.-Bernama