Neither Penang undersea tunnel nor 3rd bridge viable for now: Ex-Zenith Consortium staff
They cite ‘dramatic’ cost increase, say 1 of 3 planned highways may not even be built.
The Vibes: 30 September 2021
By Ian McIntyre
GEORGE TOWN – Former Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC) staff do not foresee the construction of either a RM3 billion bridge or RM6.3 billion undersea tunnel anytime soon, given the fresh challenges faced by the project delivery partner (PDP).
“Neither an elevated bridge nor an undersea tunnel is a viable option for Penang now as both have issues, and to complicate matters, the costs have risen dramatically.”
CZC was awarded the status of PDP in the mega project in 2011 before a majority of the endeavour’s equity was bought over by Kedah-based developer ECK Development Sdn Bhd earlier this year.
The former staff, comprising project planners and engineers, told The Vibes that due to the recessionary effects of Covid-19, as well as various controversies over the project, the undersea tunnel is seen as too costly.
A bridge may be cheaper, but when it was first mooted in 2011, the concept was opposed by the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and Penang Port Sdn Bhd authorities as the design would disrupt flight paths and shipping lanes.
“I think the people here are a forgetful lot. The reason why an underwater (tunnel) concept was suggested in the first place was because a third cross-channel bridge would disrupt (operations at) the RMAF airbase, as well as port activities,” they said.
There was an attempt to relocate the Butterworth airbase, but the Defence Ministry had second thoughts due to the facility’s strategic location.
Currently, there are two bridges linking Seberang Prai and Penang Island: one between Gelugor and the Butterworth-Seberang Jaya enclave, and the other between Bayan Lepas and Batu Kawan.
Sharing their insights into the project, the former CZC staff said the proposed third bridge had raised concerns that it would disrupt activities at the air force base and shipping lanes.
A Penang Port executive confirmed this, saying the port handles massive cruise ships, and that there are about 6,000 vessels plying the channel each month.
“The underpass should be at least 90m (wide) to allow big ships to sail through.”
The ex-employees said the deal with the state is to first build three highways before moving on to the undersea tunnel – or perhaps now, a bridge.
However, none of the three highways – the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu expressway to Gurney Drive, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu expressway to Farlim Air Itam, and Tg Bungah-Teluk Bahang route – has seen work beginning in earnest, with the PDP citing Covid-19 lockdowns.
To make matters worse, said the former staff, the package highway from Tg Bungah to Teluk Bahang, valued at RM700 million, may not even be constructed due to the rough terrain, high costs, and worries about hill-slope stability.
“We also wish to point out that the entire project cost is RM6.3 billion. It consists of the three highways and the tunnel, which was proposed at RM3.2 billion. Recent reports are misleading the public.”
They added that a land exchange deal involving RM208 million that was reportedly paid to the PDP for conducting a feasibility study on the tunnel needs to be reviewed, given the possibility that only two highways will be built, while the tunnel itself may not materialise.
“We also hope that the company first settles the grievances of the staffers they let go of, before talking about the project.
The project proponents had the best interests when it was first proposed in 2011. But now with the controversies, not to mention the economic uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, it is best to downscale it, or defer it to a point when the global economy has recovered fully.”
The ex-staff asked not to be named, as they are seeking compensation from the company after being suddenly retrenched in February.
Another point that the project’s critics have raised is that Penang has limited land.
Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow has said the feasibility study on the tunnel is completed, and that it will be presented during an exco meeting.
The study and a detailed design of the four packages – the three highways and undersea tunnel – cost RM305 million, he said.
“However, only RM208 million has been paid, through a land exchange, to CZC for the feasibility study and detailed design.
“No payment has been made for the undersea tunnel because the feasibility study has not been received and approved by the state government.”
Attempts by The Vibes to contact the company were unsuccessful at the time of writing.