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Review Pan Island Link highway in Penang

Are more highways the way forward for Penang?

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Aliran recognises that urban centres like the Klang Valley and Penang are faced with a serious problem of congestion on the roads. We therefore welcome federal and state government efforts and initiatives to resolve the problem.

The recent expansion of free bus services named the Congestion Alleviation Transport (CAT) in collaboration with Rapid Penang, on 12 selected routes in the Penang is a good example of such initiatives (though a review needs to be carried out to gauge its effectiveness).

In addressing the problem of traffic congestion, it is important to ensure that investments in transport infrastructure promote sustainable mobility and inclusivity (the rights of pedestrians, bus users, cyclists, people with disabilities, marginalised communities, etc). The overriding principle should be moving people, not cars.

Several factors would need to be considered.

The investments need to be in transport modes that are financially viable to operate. Projected ridership and revenue figures need to be realistic and sufficient to justify the investment and meet operating and maintenance costs.

The investments and their financing model should have a minimal impact on the ecology. Given the present era of climate change, these investments must lead to reduced emissions and a lower carbon footprint. This is critical to achieve Pakatan Harapan’s pledge to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2020.

Crucially, investments must be in line with an enlightened urban transport masterplan prepared by acknowledged independent experts in sustainable mobility.

It is well known that building highways is not a long-term solution for congestion as it will only encourage more people to drive – a phenomenon known as “induced demand” – and result in more emissions and pollutants.

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We note that in Penang, many concerns have been raised regarding the RM8bn six-lane Pan Island Link highway which will pass near schools and neighbourhoods and above public parks and tunnel through three faultlines on the hills, although it is understood the intention is to keep disruption to a minimum.

Nevertheless in the interest of increasing transparency, disseminating accurate information, raising awareness and deepening understanding of the issues, we call on the Penang state government to put online the 20-volume RM46bn transport proposal formulated by Southern Reclaimation Scheme (SRS) Consortium.

We also call upon the Department of Environment to extend the public display of the environmental impact assessment for the Pan Island Link by two months. The EIA process should not be treated as a mere formality but should seriously consider the public feedback received and consider all sustainable alternatives.

We also call on the federal government to commission a review of the SRS proposal in light of the original Halcrow transport masterplan to be undertaken by independent world-renowned experts in sustainable mobility.

It is time we introduced the practice of a strategic environmental assessment (SEA), before an EIA is carried out – something that is required within the European Union. This would ensure a systematic assessment of the environmental, sustainability and social effects of strategic land use-related plans such as regional and local transport plans.

In the meantime, we should implement the measures that can promote sustainable mobility recommended in the Halcrow transport masterplan strategy and institutional plan. There is a great need to develop our institutional and technical competence to understand the issues and make the right choices. It is also time to improve and expand the ferry service, which was one of the recommendations in the report.

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Aliran executive committee
28 August 2018

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