GEORGE TOWN: Retiree Terrence Ng, 67, used to mop the floor at his Jalan Besi flat twice a week. Now, he does it three times a day.
The unit is littered with sand “flying in” from the ongoing highway project behind his home in Bukit Hijau.
“The hot weather and strong winds have caused the sand to travel a longer distance,” he said.
He is not alone.
His neighbours in the surrounding flats and houses face the same predicament as an elevated bypass is being built nearby.
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While they are bothered by the dust and sand during the hot weather, they also fear possible landslides during downpours.
The bypass is part of Package Two of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) project and links Ayer Itam to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway.
The bypass, which started in February 2021 and is scheduled for completion in January 2025, will consist of three interchanges – the Lebuhraya Thean Teik-Jalan Thean Teik, Jalan Bukit Gambir-Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, and the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, which will include an 870m-long elevated U-turn.
It will provide a faster link from the densely-populated Air Itam area to the Penang Bridge.
Another Jalan Besi resident, BH Tan, 72, said he was aware that the foothills of Bukit Hijau would be affected by the elevated bypass, but not to this extent.
He said many shady trees had been felled, leaving the soil exposed.
“I am afraid a landslide may occur. During the monsoon season, the soil runoff could also cause floods and dirty roads.
“I have lived here all my life and I used to hike up the surrounding hills until a few years ago,” he added.
Tan said it was also very noisy during the day, with workers chipping away at the boulders with jackhammers.
Allaying the residents’ fears, Penang infrastructure and transport committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said mitigation measures had been implemented at the site.
“We will place plastic and geotextile sheets in the exposed area of the site when work finishes for the day. These sheets will only be opened when the workers are there.
“A temporary reservoir has also been set up to collect rainwater before it is channelled to a nearby stream to prevent flooding.
“A temporary ground drain system along the slopes also ensures no stagnant water can gather,” Zairil said.
“Also, barriers have been placed in some drains to ensure that surface runoff does not move so fast that it brings muddy water to the roads.
“The contractors are doing their best to ensure that the soil and slopes are safe,” he added.
However, Malaysia Nature Society (MNS) Penang branch adviser D. Kanda Kumar was unconvinced.
He said the danger of a natural disaster in a project like this was always there despite the measures taken.
“MNS has always favoured improving public transport over building roads to accommodate more vehicles.
“The state should have implemented Halcrow’s PTMP, favouring a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and tram system rather than building more roads,” he said.
UK-based engineering consultant Halcrow had designed the original PTMP, which promoted better use of existing facilities, but this was changed under a new consortium.
The 6km toll-free Package Two bypass is 30% complete.
It will stretch 1.8km at ground level, with other parts elevated.
There are viaduct structures (65%), tunnels (20%) and grade sections (15%) on this road.
Upon completion, the bypass is expected to reduce travel time and bring long-term benefits to Penang residents, especially the 300,000 living in Ayer Itam, Bandar Baru Ayer Itam and the adjoining Paya Terubong.