The Consumers' Association of Penang (CAP) and Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) are disappointed that the government is proceeding with the construction of the Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project.
It has been reported in the media that the project would be undertaken by a private company Daya Aliran Inovasi Sdn Bhd, whose appointment has been approved by the Economic Planning Unit (EPU).
The RM1.03 billion PORR project entails the construction of a 18-km toll highway cutting across the island from Tanjong Tokong to the Penang Bridge in Gelugor.
It is reported that the federal government funding for the project is RM150 million while the concessionaire is to come up with the rest. In return, the concessionaire is seeking rights to reclaim 150 acres in Gurney Drive and another 350 acres in Middle Bank, near Jelutong.
When asked if the state government was in favour of the project, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng reportedly said that the state government welcomed any project which would help reduce traffic congestion and generate economic growth and revenue for the state.
He also said that the Penang government is still waiting for feedback from the federal government on the project. On whether the state government would consult the public on the PORR, Lim had said public consultation had already been held, and there were differing views.
We are concerned of these new developments. Since the PORR was first announced in 2002, civil society groups and affected communities who had formed the No-PORR committee had been calling on the government to scrap the project because the environmental repercussions of this project are potentially disastrous, involving hill-cutting and coastal reclamation.
Many citizens and groups have expressed concern not for the sake of simply opposing the PORR, but out of a genuine concern that the social, environmental and economic costs of this project are way too high for an option that does not have long-term benefits. Besides this, the PORR project had been lacking in transparency right from the start. No public consultation was done before the government decided to implement the project.
Now we are exasperated that the Penang chief minister feels that there is no need to consult the public. Earlier when the public's concerns were raised during several consultations with the previous government, it had not been seriously considered. Now, with the new government, civil society is not even being given an opportunity to raise their concerns.
We have been contending that the PORR is a futile attempt in reducing congestion on existing roads, as stressed by the Penang Urban Transport Study which was commissioned by the state and published in 1998.
Based on the findings of the study pertaining to the effectiveness, usefulness and efficiency of the PORR, the report stated that PORR will not be of much use to alleviate traffic congestion in the long run.
We have been demanding for an integrated public transport system for more sustainable and cost-effective solution in the long-term. We suggest that the government put its energy and resources into upgrading public transportation in the State. With better public transport, there would be no necessity for the PORR as there would be less private vehicles on the road.
Thus, we urge the federal and Penang government to scrap the construction of the PORR and instead focus on implementing an efficient and integrated public transport system in the state.
The writer is president of the Consumers' Association of Penang and Sahabat Alam Malaysia