Special Report Penang Property: Zooming in on Seberang Perai - Fast-tracking Seberang Perai’s transport infrastructure

PENANG island’s land, sea and air transpor t system is well developed compared with the mainland of Seberang Perai which is almost triple the former’s size.

However, as more restrictions on development on the island emerge — due to cost, scarcity of land and limitations brought about by its hilly landscape and its heritage zones — businesses and developments are beginning to gravitate towards the mainland, where land is plentiful.

A census by the Department of Statistics shows that as at 2010, the population of the mainland was 818,197. This figure is expected to grow to 1.01 million by 2020, and 1.17 million by 2030. This will account for about 53% of the state’s total population of 2.2 million by then.

Meanwhile, a study by the Penang state government shows that about 42.5% of traffic circulates within Penang’s island. On the other hand, 35% of traffic flow is within the mainland. Travel between Penang’s mainland and island accounts for 7% of traffic, while traffic between Penang and other states make up 14% of total traffic.

While the Second Penang Bridge’s concessionaire Jambatan Kedua Sdn Bhd expects the new bridge to siphon some 20% to 30% of traffic from the first bridge, actual traffic patterns with the new bridge have not yet been established as it was only tolled from the beginning of April. Charges range from RM1.70 to RM70.10, with motorists paying a total RM8.50 one way (in comparison, the toll for the first bridge is RM7).

According to Majlis Perbandaran Seberang Perai municipal president Maimunah Sharif, while the traffic situation in Seberang Perai/Prai is still bearable, several locations in Seberang Perai have begun to experience critical bottlenecks. Three of the most affected areas are the roundabout at Seberang Jaya, the Juru Autocity Junction and the exits from the first Penang bridge and the North-South Expressway.

In anticipation of the growth in population and subsequent traffic jams, the state government is beefing up the mainland’s infrastructure to accommodate the traffic surge. It has drawn up a transport master plan for the period of 2013 to 2030 to enhance its roads and bus system, in addition to upgrading its ferries to faster catamarans. These upgrades may cost as much as RM7.46 billion.

“In addition, the proposed construction of roads and new infrastructure are also expected to help overcome traffic congestion in Seberang Perai as well as enhance economic activities in the affected areas,” she says.

These key upgrades include building new connections within the mainland and between the island and mainland. For example, the state government is looking to build the 36.5km North-South Expressway Link Road from Bandar Cassia to Kepala Batas at a cost of RM1.46 billion, and a 7km undersea tunnel from Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam on the mainland that costs about RM4.2 billion. The state government has signed a preliminary agreement with Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd to undertake the feasibility study and design of the tunnel as well as other roads on the island.

In terms of public transport, the state government also plans to build a bus rapid transit (BRT) system in Seberang Perai. The two networks will be from Butterworth to Georgetown (18.7km, RM655 million), and through the southern mainland corridors (23km, RM945 million). So far, there are 22 suggested new routes for the first stage, says Maimunah.

To complement these bus routes, park and ride facilities have also been proposed with seven locations under consideration. These will cost RM200 million.

To enhance this new system, the state government is also planning to create a feeder bus service that links the BRT lines. This will entail restructuring and improving existing bus routes.

In addition, the state also plans to reorganise the ferry services and increase new catamaran service routes from Penang Sentral to Weld Quay in Georgetown, Queensbay in Bayan Lepas, and Gurney Quay. Currently, the ferry service shuttles between Georgetown and Butterworth.

Penang Sentral is a 49:51 joint venture between Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd and Pelaburan Hartanah Bhd. The 23-acre integrated residential and commercial development in Butterworth is envisioned as a transport hub that will include terminals for buses, taxis and ferries. Penang Sentral will also serve as a stop for the proposed monorail in Seberang Perai and a double-tracking electric rail.

Penang Sentral had an original gross development value of RM2 billion when it was launched in 2007, but owing to funding and land acquisition issues, the project was postponed. Last year, the project was redesigned to fast-track its development and make it more user-friendly,  its project director Imran Muhamad Salim said in a report last November.

Penang Federal Action Council chairman Datuk Zainal Abidin Osman was quoted as saying in March that the development plans for the project have been submitted to the local authorities and are awaiting approval.

How will these projects be funded? Given the sheer size of these undertakings, a number of agencies from the state and federal level will be involved. These are the Unit Pengurusan Lalulintas Bahagian Kerajaan Tempatan and  Public Works Department. Meanwhile, the state government has also applied to the federal government for funding under the 12th Malaysia Plan.

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on April 21 - 27, 2014.


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