Big year ahead for Penang – Q&A with Chow

THE following are excerpts from the Q&A with Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow :

>Will the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) be scaled down if Federal funding is obtained for the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP)?

Since we are not getting Federal funding, our proposed plan for PSR will continue, but we are open to scaling it down if the Federal Government can fund some of the projects.

This is a frequently asked question, including in the state assembly. If there is Federal funding, we will not need PSR, but it is probably the issuance of bonds, which have to be paid back. It is not a grant or a federal project.

But the islands to be created are for more than just financing the transport project. They are needed for economic transformation. For the next 20 to 30 years, we will require the land to create a robust international manufacturing and service hub and relieve development pressure on the island's northeast coast and hill region. We can have mixed development on the new islands catering to various needs, including affordable housing, recreational green space, and waterfront promenades. Previously, when waterfronts were created, the public were denied access. But we will create a waterfront promenade with jogging and cycling tracks on the new islands. This will create job opportunities, including for those impacted by the project (fishermen community). We want the (negative) social impact minimised.

>Which component looks promising for Federal funding, Pan Island Link 1 (PIL1) or LRT?

By convention, the Federal Government funds public transport projects like the LRT and MRT. Due to the centralisation of tax collection, the Federal Government usually funds major transport projects, with examples including the KL Middle Ring Road II, the Rawang Bypass, and the Pan Borneo Highway. We wrote to Putrajaya, appealing for RM10bil funding for the Bayan Lepas LRT. If we could get it, we would be able to build the LRT and PIL1 concurrently. As I mentioned in the state assembly last November, the prime minister proposed that Penang issue bonds to fund the LRT. The federal government will guarantee the bonds, and the state will have to repay them.

>Some NGOs oppose PTMP, claiming that it is a waste of money. They say the state should be moving people, not vehicles. What's your take on this?

That allegation was said (with contempt) and without any basis. It is a matter of time before the misleading information by the NGOs are taken over by facts.

The aim of PTMP is to achieve a 40:60 public-private transport mode share. Some critics argue that we should improve existing public bus services, introduce Bus Rapid Transit or ART (Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit) instead of building an LRT or PIL1. But look at our buses today. They are stuck in traffic with other vehicles.

To effect a significant shift from private to public transport, a reliable and frequent public transport system with a dedicated and segregated right-of-way like an LRT is needed. Otherwise, no significant shift will happen among commuters.

We also need push factors: instill public awareness, discourage and restrict private vehicle use, limit parking spaces.

We need pull factors: the rail lines, good first and last mile connectivity, integration with existing public transport modes, and pro-public transport urban policies.

For example, Green Lane or Jalan Masjid Negeri serves as a middle ring road but development has since overstretched its traffic diversion function. Now, this road is more for access for developments along its route.

The solution to this problem is a ring road beyond the city area to disperse traffic rather than force it to converge in the extended city. So, what is needed now is an outer bypass like PIL1. If we do not ease traffic on existing roads, public buses will not be able to move or provide an efficient feeder service to the LRT. So, the thrust of PTMP is moving people, whether they are in public or private vehicles.

>The 5.7km bypass project linking Ayer Itam to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway under the PTMP is set to start at the beginning of the second quarter of 2020. Can you share the timeline of this project and the stages it will be carried out, as well as the difficulties in carrying it out?

Actual construction work will begin in April, taking about 36 months. We expect completion in April, 2023. There will be various works including utility relocation, slope-cutting and stabilisation, construction of the elevated sections, and an elevated U-turn at the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway approaching the first bridge.

While the construction of elevated highways is nothing new, each site has its own unique constraints such as topography conditions, environmental and social factors. We will also need to have a traffic management plan during construction so that road users will not be inconvenienced.

>With regard to other components under PTMP, what can we see beginning this year and is there a target on the stages of completion in the next few years? What are the difficulties the state is facing in carrying it out?

Yes, for 2020, we have several milestones and targets in the master implementation programme. For PSR, we have obtained all approvals, the detailed design is to begin in the first quarter this year, while tender will be called in the second quarter, and the first work package contract to be awarded in the third or fourth quarter.

For the Bayan Lepas LRT, the project’s environmental impact assessment (EIA) and Railway Scheme approvals from Federal authorities are still pending, the detailed design is to begin in the first quarter. The tender is to be called in the second or third quarter, and the first work package contract to be awarded in the third or fourth quarter.

All approvals are obtained for PIL1, the detailed design is to be obtained by the second quarter, and the tender is to be called in the fourth quarter, with the tender to be awarded by the first quarter next year.

In terms of challenges, we face the regular pre-construction challenges by engaging stakeholders, even as various other platforms continue to circulate incorrect information. It will also be critically important to award the contract to the best contractors with the expertise and technical know-how. There is no change in the LRT station locations, and Sia Boey is still one of the stations, as per our plans since day one.

The problem is with the station at the Penang International Airport (PIA). We want it as near to the terminal as possible so people do not have to walk too far, but this may impact future expansion of the airport.

Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad is still reluctant to accommodate. They want it to be as far as possible, but our argument is that who would want to drag their luggage that far to reach the terminal. We have decided to leave it to the regulatory bodies to decide.

>On the PTMP, has the state signed a project delivery partner (PDP) agreement with SRS Consortium for the second stage of work, which is calling for tender, evaluation of tender and appointment of contractor? Is the contract going to be awarded to a company this month?

We have given SRS Consortium the Letter of Award to get all the necessary approvals. We aim to sign the PDP agreement with SRS before Chinese New Year. After that, we can start calling for open tenders for the work packages and award contracts.

>All these projects are necessary for the benefit of Penangites. Which one of them would you like to see implemented first?

I think LRT remains our priority. However, equally important is funding. The architecture requires the islands (PSR) to be reclaimed. These two will move in tandem. Now, we are working on the loan and the bond but everything is still subject to the signing of the PDP agreement, and the pace will be quickened.

>Is developing mainland, which is a priority under the Penang 2030 vision, the main target?

Looking at Penang island, how much more can you do? The future of Penang is the mainland. From inception until now, the Penang Development Corporation (PDC) has placed focus on the economic integration between island and mainland. This is clearly shown by PDC's effort since 1970 in selecting the location of township developments on the island (Bayan Baru) and mainland (Seberang Jaya and the most recent Bandar Cassia).

PDC's efforts in developing Bandar Cassia since 1993 has increased economic opportunities that make the South Seberang Prai District as the new growth area. PDC will continue to play its role in promoting the mainland as a destination of choice to live, invest, work, learn, play and leisure.

Penang island is expected to reach development saturation over the next 10 years. The only logical trend of development in the years to come is focusing on the provision of infrastructure, and all the facilities of international standards on mainland to be at par with the island. Through this approach, PDC believes it has managed to change the mindset of Penangites: that the mainland is the preferred place to live, work, invest, do business, engage in leisure, as well as learn and play. PDC has 13 infrastructure projects involving Bandar Cassia, Penang Science Park North, East Batu Kawan, and Byram that involves about RM258mil that will be awarded this year. PDC is also planning to build and lease industrial buildings worth RM70mil there.

>With the single use plastic ban coming into place this year, what is your take on how Penang is leading the way?

No-plastic-bags in Penang is nothing new, but it will definitely be ‘heightened’ this year. Right now, no plastic bags are given out in supermarkets and hypermarkets from Mondays to Wednesdays, even if you want to pay for one. Eventually, there will be no plastic bags given every day, even if you are willing to pay. On plastic straws, we need to do more so that people will embrace it. We always lead and we are willing to implement whatever is good for the community and the environment. We will continue to focus on education awareness, like when we banned polystyrene food containers. Awareness programmes have to be run faster that any action that needs to be taken.

>With regards to Experience Penang Year 2020, is there anything that the state is targeting?

Last year, we had achieved eight million passenger movements at PIA. This year, we target 8.61 million passenger movements.

Last year, we had some successes in getting direct flights from Jakarta, China (Changsha, Quanzhou and Shenzhen). We have a few more under negotiation.

Starlux Airlines is also coming to Penang from Taipei. State exco member Yeoh Soon Hin is still hoping to get two or three more routes from China. He is promoting Penang to India as a destination for meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions, and this will boost our figures. We hope to help Malaysia achieve the target of 30 million tourist arrivals this year. We will play our part.

In 2018, Penang was second to Sabah in the tourism tax collection. We are happy that the Federal Government is giving us RM10mil as payment from the tourism tax we collected. All this will be used for marketing and promotional purposes, and not so much on tourism infrastructure projects.

>Can you tell us more about Gurney Wharf, touted as the state’s seafront park-in-the-city project?

As of Dec 30, we received 20.2ha (50 acres) from Tanjung Pinang Development Sdn Bhd. We are in the process of signing with the project manager and appointing the consultant for the master plan concept. It won’t take too long. We hope to start the project in the middle of the year. In fact, the waterfront promenade and concrete wall have been completed. Since we launched this in 2016, the people have been waiting. Landscaping, artificial beach, playground, recreational facilities should be ready in 18 to 24 months. It will be opened progressively, starting from the south of Gurney Drive (near Pangkor Road). There will be F&B and retails outlets near the Oriental Seafood Restaurant in Gurney Drive.

>In your opinion, how should an ideal Penang look like?

Penang is small enough for almost everything. It used to be called a 20-minute city because going everywhere used to take 20 minutes. Now it is a 30-minute city because of the worsening traffic. We don’t hope to see a one-hour city. Mobility is very important. We need to be a compact city because we have limited land size.

There must be good mobility, facilities, transport, coupled with enough of green, leisure and other amenities and facilities such as hospitals and schools. Community spirit is strong. Everybody knows everybody. There must be close ties between all of us from diverse backgrounds.

>By 2030, what are the developments you think will be realised?

Most parts of the PTMP can be realised by then. If not, it will take another few years. We would have laid a strong foundation for it by then. For connectivity such as digitalisation and fibrerisation, I believe technology will drive us to achieve it. If the state government is slow, I think telco companies will drive this. In terms of connectivity and mobility, we will be there in 10 years as a state that is advanced, modern and technology-driven. Our industry will hopefully continue to grow and be transformed with higher technology. We need a lot of talent, and our schools and universities are very important. We can control the liveability and sustainability of the environment. Creating better infrastructure, transport networks, schools and recreational facilities for people to enjoy, will make the state attractive and draw talent to stay and work here.

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