|Laman Webantu (M) KM2: 5407 File Size: 8.1 Kb|
KQ: New Johor Bridge: A Mega Folly
By Kim Quek
8/9/2001 8:45 pm Sat
Mahathir has finally got a reluctant Singapore to agree to what UMNO leaders
have been clamouring for years: the replacement of the Causeway with a
bridge for vehicles and a tunnel for trains across the Singapore-Johor
While the proponents of this project are jubilant, the ordinary folks in
Johor are cool to the news. The reason is simple. The private groups that
have pushed for this project may be mentally counting their bonanza and
golden eggs, but Johoreans have started to worry about their pockets getting
The costs for this project will run into billions, which will eventually be
borne mainly by Johoreans through toll collections. Unlike the case of the
Second Link, which they have the option not to use, they will be forced to
use the new bridge this time, as the present Causeway will be removed in due
Their worries have now turned into grouse. They angrily ask: why should we
build a new bridge and a tunnel? What's wrong with the present Causeway?
The honest answer is: there is nothing wrong with the present Causeway. We
are building the new bridge because the leaders think that the bridge is
more beautiful than the Causeway, especially with waters flowing underneath.
If we have to spend a few millions to improve the aesthetics, no one will
complain. But when the costs run into thousands of millions of ringgit, as
in this case, it is a serious affair that should call for the consultation
of the entire nation, especially when the main benefit is only one of
Looking at the enormity of the works and the astronomical sums involved, one
should be able to dismiss this project without second thought, when weighed
against the meager benefit derived. Let us take a glimpse of the works
For the bridge construction, the works involved are reclamation for the
bridge as well as for the new custom, immigration and quarantine (CIQ)
complex totaling over 100 acres, construction of the bridge proper (up to
mid-point) and the CIQ complex, revamping the traffic system in Johor Bahru
City with new interchanges to link the bridge to the present end point of
the North South Expressway some 8 km away, installations of new water
pipelines to Singapore to replace the current ones at the Causeway, and land
As for the tunnel, the Menteri Besar of Johor has indicated that it will
start from Kebun teh in Johor Bahru and end in Kranji Rd in Singapore. The
distance is 8 km. A new CIQ complex in Kranji and a new railway station in
Johor Bahru will be constructed, for which land will be acquired.
The cost of the tunnel, which will be borne entirely by Malaysia, was
estimated by the project proposer Gerbang Perdana at RM 1.5 billion in a
press report on 10.02.2001. The total costs for the completion of the
entire project including the demolition and removal of the Causeway will
easily exceed 2,500 million ringgit.
Additionally, Johor Bahru residents will have to endure heavy inconveniences
to their daily life for several years while the project is under
What is the return for this colossal investment and huge inconveniences?
Answer: better scenery at the Straits.
Now, even the claim of aesthetic advantage is brought into question, as
Singapore has already indicated that it will reclaim land up to near the mid
point of the bridge. Combined with the reclamation of even larger areas on
the Malaysian side to accommodate both the CIQ complex and the bridge, the
already narrow channel of water will almost disappear, thus significantly
reducing the beauty of the Straits. Besides, this extensive reclamation
will damage the coastline in the vicinity through siltation.
Keeping in mind that a bridge is beautiful only when it is enhanced by an
expansive stretch of waters, many would argue that the Straits looks more
beautiful with the present Causeway rather than when it is spanned by the
new bridge, which will be relatively short (for grandeur) and will be
running over a narrow and distorted stretch of waters.
If the leaders advocating this project had been inspired by the beautiful
bridges elsewhere, they may be in for some disappointment upon completion to
find that our new bridge is no Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco or
Harbour Bridge of Sydney.
Issues of aesthetics aside, the Menteri Besar of Johor has said that he
expects the new bridge will give a boost to the economic development in the
There is no basis for this belief. Influx of tourists or investors will not
take place because of the new bridge. It will happen only if there is an
increase in tourist attractions or an enhancement in investment environment
in the State. However, there will of course be the usual short-term boost
to the construction industry and the related services in the Johor Bahru
area during the construction stage.
The only possible justification for a replacement of the Causeway is when it
has become a critical bottleneck with no possibility of improvement to the
traffic flow. But this is clearly not the case. And the authorities have
also wisely stayed clear of this issue, in view of the embarrassing fact
that the Second Link (RM 2 billion), which has been in operation for three
and a half years, is still unable to shake off its white elephant image. It
is normally deserted, save during public holidays which are few and far
There is undoubtedly room for improvement in the present Causeway in that
daily queues still form at the immigration check points at the JB end during
peak hours. This is mainly due to insufficient booths opened for the
vehicles and slowness in processing Singapore passport holders. With the
imminent introduction of electronic smart cards for commuters and by putting
more staff to cater for the peak hours, these irritating queues will become
a thing of the past. And the present Causeway can provide smooth traffic
for a long time to come, with the Second Link catering to the heavy vehicles
and functioning as a back up to meet the traffic surge during holidays.
From any point of view, this project is a mega folly, and is symptomatic of
Mahathir's leadership. It is a continuation of the crazy streak of wasteful
mega projects that started in the 90s. Half a dozen of these projects were
actually in the pipeline when the recent Asian financial crisis intervened
and put a halt to them. If not for this timely intervention, Malaysia's
economy would have been ruined.
Typically, these projects are characterized by paucity of rational input,
prompted by greedy fortune seekers who prey on Mahathir's obsession for
grandiosity and possibly his na´ve association of economic boom with big
Lee Kuan Yew disclosed in a post negotiation press conference that the new
bridge and the demolition of the Causeway had been 'the main sticking
point' for sometime and that it had been a 'very difficult issue' for Prime
Minister Goh Chok Tong and his cabinet.
Hence in retrospect, if our leaders had been more rational, this spoke in
the wheel of negotiation for a package settlement between the two countries
would not have arisen at all, and much valuable time in mutual economic
co-operation would have been gained to the immense benefits of the people.
It is high time our leaders wake up from their stupor. Unless there is a
fundamental paradigm shift in the mentality of our leadership, catastrophe
awaits us in the advent of imminent globalisation in this IT age.