To bridge or not to bridge the Johor Straits
The proposed ‘crooked’ bridge project over the Straits of Johor was scrapped by the Malaysian government on April 12, 2006. It has been seven years since the project had stopped progressing. Are there any prospects for the revival of such a project?
The island of Singapore was no longer completely an island when the Johor-Singapore 1,056m-long Causeway was opened for traffic in 1927. Being the first land link between peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, it was an engineering marvel at that time. The Johor Causeway connects the Skudai Highway on the Malaysian side and the Bukit Timah Expressway on the Singaporean side, carrying approximately 60,000 vehicles per day.
Comprising of a three-lane carriageway, the Johor Causeway also carries through it water supply pipes as well as a railway track. Other than the causeway, the island of Singapore is also linked to Johor via the 1.92km Johor Second Link, which commenced operations in 1998.
Despite being the only land-connection linking Malaysia and Singapore, the Johor Causeway has some disadvantages. Unlike the Johor Second Link Bridge that may allow ships to pass underneath, the Johor Causeway practically sealed the Johor Strait from shipping activities. Vessels sailing from the Port of Tanjung Pelepas in south-east Johor have to go around Singapore in order to get to the Port of Pasir Gudang, adding considerably to the time of voyage.
Furthermore, the Johor Causeway disallows water from flowing freely through the Strait of Johor, causing marine pollution affecting areas in and around the city of Johor Baru. With the increasing traffic getting in and out of Singapore each year, it was also said that the 89-year-old Johor Causeway would soon no longer be able to serve its purpose and therefore has to be replaced with a bridge.
The proposed crooked bridge
The idea of replacing the Johor Causeway with a bridge was first mooted by the then-prime minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad on July 5, 1996. After a series of negotiations, both states were unable to agree to build a straight bridge to replace the Johor Causeway.
Malaysia was adamant at going ahead with the proposed plan to build a crooked bridge at a height of 25m above water level and descending halfway to link up with the Singaporean side of the causeway. This proposed bridge, if completed, is reputed to be the first scenic S-shaped bridge in the world, enhancing Johor Baru’s reputation as the southern tourism gateway of Malaysia.
In April 2006, the fifth prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, announced the cancellation of the said project.
Nevertheless, subsequent to the cancellation, there have been a number of calls that the project should be reconsidered and revived, namely by Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the sultan of Johor himself.
Revisiting the crooked bridge project
Ever since the Iskandar Malaysia Project was introduced in 2006, the southern region of Johor has experienced rapid modernisation. The development region encompasses an area of 2,217 square kilometers covering the city of Johor Baru and the adjoining towns of Pontian, Senai, Pasir Gudang and the establishment of a new administrative capital in Nusajaya.
Johor Baru District, where the proposed crooked bridge is located, is included in its entirety in this development region.
As such, Malaysia should reconsider reviving the aborted proposed crooked bridge project. The proposed project may further enhance Johor’s potential as the region’s premier shipping hub.
The elevated height of the proposed crooked bridge would allow easy passage for vessels, thus enabling the Straits of Johor to be opened maritime navigation that has been sealed for the past 86 years, providing better route between the two main ports of Johor namely the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and the Port of Pasir Gudang.
Upon re-opening of the Straits of Johor to shipping activities, ships navigating the Straits of Johor would then enjoy the right of transit passage as provided under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea as the Straits of Johor has become a straits that connects one part of the high seas or Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to another part of the high seas or EEZ.
The re-opening of the Straits of Johor to international navigation would provide mariners with an alternative route to the already congested Straits of Singapore. It is reported that the Straits of Singapore is currently accommodating approximately 75, 000 vessels per year.
However, given that the Straits of Johor having limited breadth comparing to that of the Straits of Singapore, huge vessels like oil tankers, very large crude carriers (VLCCs) and Ultra Large Crude Carriers (ULCCs) still may likely have to navigate through the conventional route through the Straits of Singapore.
The proposed bridge may assist in easing the traffic congestion in the city of Johor Baru. It will facilitate the free flow of water, thus, minimising the effects of pollution in what used to be the stagnant waters of the Straits of Johor.
While tourists from all around the world are lured to Kuala Lumpur because of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, this proposed bridge may also become a new appeal for tourists to the city of Johor Baru, complementing other tourism hotspots like Desaru, Legoland and the shoppers’ paradise of the Johor Premium Outlets.
A way forward
Despite its cancellation in 2006, the proposed crooked bridge project is worth revisiting. It is indeed a far-sighted project in stimulating the development of Johor’s southern region. Nevertheless, the biggest challenge to the proposed project is for Malaysia to review the answer to this; ‘to bridge or not to bridge’.
MOHD HAZMI MOHD RUSLI and NUR FADHILAH CHE AMANI are both lecturers at the Faculty of Syariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia. Mohd Hazmi, who holds a PhD from the University of Wollongong, Australia, is a research fellow at the Institute of Oceanography and Environment, Malaysia.