No to more toll highways, yes to better public transport

Josh Hong

Selangor must improve the quality of public transport in the state. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 25, 2021.

ONE should give credit where it is due. Despite all the negative perceptions that International Trade and Industry Minister Mohamed Azmin Ali has attracted since the “Sheraton Move” in February last year, it was he, when serving as Selangor Menteri Besar, who put paid to the proposal to build the Kinrara-Damansara Expressway (Kidex) in early 2015.

The Azmin government’s move was unprecedented, as it was the first time in Malaysia that a federal highway project was axed by a state government. It won praise from Selangorians from all walks of life and made good on the Pakatan Rakyat promise to put the interests of the people above all else.

Before that, the 26.1km Kidex (14.9km mainline and 11.2km ramps)  had for years fomented protests among residents of areas where the highway would cut through. The private elevated highway would start from Bandar Kinrara and end at Damansara, with several tolls designated along the way.

But the increasingly congested and densely populated Klang Valley did not need more mega-projects that eventually would not benefit the people, certainly not more toll highways that would only induce in more traffic, not to mention noise pollution, dust, environmental impacts and safety of residents, especially during construction.

After all, weak law enforcement and light penalties are two key reasons why many concessionaires have failed to adhere to the highest safety standards, and the recent accident at the Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Expressway was a case in point.  

But even if highway contractors are reputable, trustworthy and meticulous in their job, building more toll roads will not solve the perennial issue of traffic congestion.

It was, therefore, right and proper that Kidex was scrapped on the grounds of the concessionaire failing to conduct the traffic impact assessment, social impact assessment and environment impact assessment, as well as to reveal toll rates together with returns on investment and fully disclose the concession agreement for transparency.

Had it been given the green light, we would by now have seen a huge elevated viaduct with a highway on gigantic reinforced concrete pylons, cutting through the heart of some of the oldest, most established and liveable residential and urban areas, such as PJ Old Town, Seksyen 14, 17, 19 and SS2 of Petaling Jaya.

However, there has been talk of Kidex being revived, albeit in a different form following a so-called route realignment.

According to a recent news report by the Edge Malaysia, PJD Link Sdn Bhd, a private construction company, has been soliciting public feedback and engaging with MPs and state assemblymen of areas that would be affected by the project.While it is now called Petaling Jaya Dispersal Link (PJD Link), it is not so much a new proposal given that the route is remarkably similar to that of the defunct Kidex.

Although PJD Link Sdn Bhd said it has conducted “informal engagements” with residents, I, who would be affected by the project, have heard nothing of the sort. I have tried to find out from my sources if any kind of public engagement has been done, to no avail.

But the silence of the Selangor government on this vitally important issue is most disturbing.

All that the public had heard was Izham Hashim, chairman of Selangor’s infrastructure committee, had confirmed that a proposal had been presented to the State Economic Council late last year but it was still at an early stage.

Meanwhile, Selangor Local Government, Public Transport and New Village Development Committee chairman Ng Sze Han said representatives of PJD Link Sdn Bhd had attended a Selangor Economic Action Council meeting, and were advised to engage with elected representatives and residential groups on the building of the highway.

This is most ironic. If one cares to remember, the very same Ng, along with several of his party colleagues including Rajiv Rishyakaran (Bukit Gasing) and Yeo Bee Yin (then Damansara Utama), had opposed Kidex back in 2016 when rumours were rife that the project would make a comeback.

I earnestly hope Ng has not changed his mind now that he is an exco member of the Selangor government.

Since the proposed PJD Link is more or less the same as Kidex, what is there to consult and why the need to look at whatever reports that the company may produce to convince the public?

The residents already made their voices heard, loud and clear that a highway as such would not bring any positive effects but be detrimental to the well-being of the people.

The deafening silence and the lack of transparency on the part of the ruling Pakatan Harapan (PH) are quite shameful. So far, the only lawmaker who has come out strongly against the revived project is Maria Chin Abdullah, the MP for Petaling Jaya. In her statement to the Edge Malaysia, she proposed the alternative of increasing public buses and making our public transport system more efficient, something that I have been arguing for years.

Be that as it may, I am also acutely aware that public buses do not make a quick buck as highway concessions, which is why politicians, regardless of their political affiliations and party background, are susceptible to the influence of the conglomerates.

However, if PH truly has the interests of the people at heart, they must do their utmost to improve the quality of public transport in Selangor, instead of being perpetually deferential to business interests.

It is high time they walk the talk, or risk the wrath of the very people they claim to represent. – January 25, 2021.

* Josh Hong is a keen watcher of domestic and international politics, who longs for the day when Malaysians master the art of self-mockery. He has spent the last 15 years trying to win his feline friends’ favour as he considers it an endeavour more worthwhile than trusting politicians, aspiring also to be a tea and coffee connoisseur.

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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  • Hong, where does this leave us the common public as politicians from both side of the aisle changed tune to suit them best. I yearn to see an elected representative stand hand in hand with his constituency and not bow out to their party lines or worst still a corrupted representative succumb to cash for the business circles.

    Posted 3 years ago by Teruna Kelana · Reply