GEORGE TOWN: Two active NGOs in Penang want the Penang Undersea Tunnel project scrapped because it will be redundant with two bridges connecting the island to the mainland.
Instead, they want the state government to focus on building a cross-channel rail link and return to the five-year-old principle of “moving people, not cars” that was formed in the original Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP).
Penang Forum steering committee member Dr Lim Mah Hui said the state should do away with the tunnel and opt for a rail link on one of the existing bridges.
He said building a railway on one of the bridges posed a substantially lesser impact to the environment than boring a tunnel beneath the seabed.
“It will save us more money than building a rail link from scratch,” he added.
Stressing that he lobbied for this years ago, the former city councillor said studies worldwide showed that building new roads only increased traffic flow and induced more people to use private cars for every commuting need.
“The state government should work with the Federal Government to turn a lane on one of the existing bridges into a railway line,” he said.
Penang Citizens Awareness Chant Group (Chant) adviser Yan Lee echoed a similar view, calling on the state government to remember that the PTMP was founded on the principle of “moving people, not cars”.
He said his study of traffic reports showed that the capacity utilisation for Penang Bridge and Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Bridge was at 87% and 50% respectively last year.
“We held a public protest in 2013 against the project and told the state government that the tunnel would only be useful if there was a rail link in it.
“We are getting the East Coast Rail Link, which is part of a rail network from Singapore to China. If our island has no rail link and the train stops in Butterworth only, we will be losing out,” he said.
Yan Lee was referring to the Kunming-Singapore railway network, which will crawl northwards from the island republic and connects with Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos before entering southwest China.
In Penang, a light rail transit line across the sea is a long-term component of the PTMP. It is to be as tall as Penang Bridge, running parallel to it. This LRT plan, however, is at a preliminary stage and work on it is only expected after 2026.