Penang undersea tunnel still on

Federal and state govts to deliberate on feasibility study, which should be ready by end-October

By P PREM KUMAR / Pic By BERNAMA

The feasibility study and detailed design for the RM3.5 billion undersea tunnel project in Penang will be submitted by the end of October, to be deliberated on by federal and state authorities.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the state government remains positive to-date on the implementation of the mega infrastructure project, which would link Persiaran Gurney on the island to Bagan Ajam on the mainland.

He said the state government is also unperturbed by calls made by certain quarters urging the authorities to drop the mega project, amid the federal government’s bid to save costs by scrapping and renegotiating several mega projects.

“The feasibility study should be ready by the end of this month. It will be submitted this month for the federal and state governments to deliberate on and decide.

“The state will have to look at various factors before deciding whether to proceed with the project. Anyhow, the project is slated to be built only in 2023, so there is no rush to make a decision  immediately,” said Chow.

The undersea tunnel is part of a RM6.5 billion bundled project awarded to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd (CZC), together with three expressways.

The three highways, known as paired-roads, will have a combined length of 20.3km. The undersea tunnel is slated to begin construction after the completion of the first two highways.

Chow said the construction of the first expressway, which would connect Ayer Itam to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, is expected to commence in the first quarter of next year.

The second expressway from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang would start upon the completion of the first highway, followed by the third from Gurney Drive to the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway.

Chow said the undersea tunnel project cannot be equated with the mega projects scrapped by the federal government.

“The project is being paid by land titles, so it does not involve cash payment either from the federal or state…it should not be an issue (the project being continued),” he added.

In the preliminary agreement signed with the state government in 2013, 110 acres (44.5ha) of freehold land at a total cost of RM6.2 billion was offered to CZC as payment for the construction cost.

As of July 2018, CZC has received 5.67 acres valued at RM206.6 million to fund the feasibility studies on the roads and tunnel.

Chow also called Penangites not to be confused between the undersea tunnel and the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) — a RM27 billion blueprint underlining specific projects to be implemented in the next few years.

The PTMP envisages more alternative transportation modes to combat worsening traffic congestion across the state, such as light rail transit and monorail lines, a cable car line and the undersea tunnel.

CZC, a special-purpose vehicle that is 13.21%-owned by Vertice Bhd, secured the traffic alleviation project on Penang Island after winning an open tender organised by the state government.

Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd, controlled by Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli, has a 47.12% stake in CZC. The rest are held by Kenanga Nominees (Tempatan) Sdn Bhd (38.92%) and Juteras Sdn Bhd (0.75%). Zarul also owns a 14.62% stake in Vertice, where he was previously the chairman.

Both CZC and the Penang state government came under heavy criticism under the previous Barisan Nasional-led federal government prior to the 14th General Election (GE14), which prompted an investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission into the project’s price tag and the RM305 million cost for the roads and tunnel’s feasibility studies.

The choice of a tunnel instead of a bridge was also questioned, besides the project’s land-swap funding model.

The tunnel will be built by China Railway Construction Co Ltd, which is CZC’s engineering, procurement, commissioning and construction contractor due to its expertise in underground construction. The tunnel is expected to be built in 2023.