PETALING JAYA: The crooked bridge, later referred to as the “scenic bridge”, was supposed to replace the Johor-Singapore Causeway.
First mooted by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1996, it was meant to ease traffic congestion in Johor Baru, improve water quality and reduce pollution in the Straits of Johor.
Initially, Singapore said it was willing to work with Malaysia on the bridge, but only if it was included in a package of bilateral issues to be discussed, including Malaysia’s water supply to the republic after 2061.
When the water issue was separated from the package in October 2002, Singapore called off its plan for the new bridge.
Singapore Foreign Minister S. Jayakumar said it did not make sense for the republic to build its part of a bridge, adding that to build that half, along with revisions to Customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) facilities, it would incur a cost of over S$500mil (RM1.5bil).
Jayakumar also said Malaysia had not consulted with Singapore for its plan to replace half of the Causeway with a new bridge.
A stand-off ensued and Malaysia decided to go it alone.
On Aug 1, 2003, Dr Mahathir announced that Malaysia would not seek Singapore’s involvement in the project, adding that Malaysia would build its half of the bridge and had no choice but to opt for a “crooked” bridge due to environmental and commercial necessities.
The bridge would be a six-lane S-shaped highway that would curve in such a way that it would allow vessels to pass under it.
Dr Mahathir said Singapore’s senior minister at the time, Lee Kuan Yew, told him that then Singapore prime minister Goh Chok Tong was not in favour of a new bridge as “he has a sense of nostalgia for the Causeway” and that “we can construct a bridge after Goh’s retirement”.
The bridge, which was to be at least 25m high, would allow better water flow and enable the passage of vessels underneath its span.
It would also facilitate transportation of cargo from Pasir Gudang to the Tanjung Pelepas port.
In December 2003, the construction of a new CIQ complex in Bukit Chagar for the project began.
On Jan 28, 2006, Dr Mahathir, who had stepped down as the country’s prime minister some three years earlier, said he was happy that Malaysia was still going ahead with building the bridge.
Responding to an earlier news report that the bridge be referred to as the “scenic bridge”, he said in jest: “I thought it was ‘cynic’ bridge. Is that how you spell it?”
But his successor Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi announced in April that the government had decided to stop the construction of the “scenic bridge” due to legal implications and complications.
He said the negative response of the people towards the conditions set by Singapore as a trade-off – for sand and the use of airspace – was another reason for the cancellation.
Unhappy with the decision, Dr Mahathir said the Cabinet had “surrendered national sovereignty”.
Due to the cancellation, the government had to fork out hundreds of millions of ringgit in compensation and build an alternative route to the CIQ in Bukit Chagar.
On Oct 24, 2007, Finance Ministry parliamentary secretary Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said the government had approved RM292.52mil as compensation, including RM55mil in claims for groundwork that had been carried out.
On April 13, 2015, Dr Mahathir accused Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak of breaking his promise to resume the bridge project.
In an interview, Dr Mahathir said Najib had supported the project when he took over office from Abdullah in 2009, adding: “He was my hope after Pak Lah (Abdullah) resigned. He said he would build the bridge when he became the prime minister, even if Singapore opposed it. But he didn’t do it.”