Penang Op-Ed. Why bulldoze through Penang undersea tunnel project?


This is the fourth article in a series to explain why the Penang state government should get an independent review of the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP). Ahmad Hilmy & Lim Mah Hui  |  Published: 6 Aug 2018.

ANALYSIS | Why does Penang need to rush to have the 7.2km undersea tunnel project when the original Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) officially adopted by the state government clearly states that it is not an urgent priority?

Why this haste when the survey of Penang’s traffic volume by UK-based engineering consultant Halcrow showed that cross-channel traffic in 2011 accounted for only 7 percent of total state traffic during peak hours?

The first draft by Halcrow that was presented sometime at the end of 2012  to the Penang Transport Council (of which one of this article’s authors, Lim Mah Hui, was a member) showed the undersea tunnel may only be needed towards 2030.  However  for some reason, in the final draft in 2013, Halcrow brought the date forward to 2025.

The public was told by the state government that the tunnel was needed because it could not get federal approval to build a third bridge across the channel or to obtain approval to take over ownership and operation of the ferry service.

But now that Pakatan Harapan controls both the state and federal governments, it is in a position to consider cheaper and environmentally friendlier forms of public transport. This notably includes improving the ferry service or/and possibly having a rail link on one of the existing bridges.

Despite all these, Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow has again brought up the issue of the tunnel and other megainfrastructure, asserting them to be a priority for his administration to solve the island’s traffic problems.

The undersea tunnel project would connect Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam on the mainland. It is planned to be built along with the three main highways comprising the 10.5km north coastal paired road from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, as well as the 5.7km Air Itam-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway and 4.1km Gurney Drive-Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway paired roads.  In total, these four projects are estimated to cost RM 6.4 billion.

Many Penangites would love to use the ferry service if it is efficiently managed and brought up to for example, the standard of the Hong Kong–Kowloon ferry service. Pedestrian usage of the ferry service has been dwindling over the years because it was infrequent, unreliable and not pleasant. A proper study should be made on the cost of upgrading the ferry service to acceptable standards.

Presently, the rail service of KTM, which has improved significantly, unfortunately ends at the Prai/Butterworth station. It is poorly integrated with the ferry service. It takes almost one hour for passengers to cross from this railway station to the ferry terminal at Weld Quay on the island, thereby discouraging people from using trains as an entry mode to Penang Island. This is another compelling reason to improve the ferry service.

Additionally, the state and federal authorities working in coordination should look at the feasibility of providing a rail link on one of the bridges between the mainland and island.

A cross-channel commuter train would be much better than constructing yet another bridge for cars. It would also cut travel time considerably and encourage people especially those on the island, heading to or coming from Kuala Lumpur, to use the train instead.

For all the above reasons, the current Penang government which promises competency, accountability, transparency and openness should have greater public engagement and participation before bulldozing through those megaprojects.


Part 1: Relooking the Penang Transport Master Plan

Part 2: How SRS’ Penang Transport Master Plan deviates from the original

Part 3: Was the Penang Transport Master Plan awarded with open tender?

Part 5: Why Penang’s expensive LRT plan must be reviewed

Part 6: Why an independent review of the SRS-proposed PTMP is needed


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About the authors:

About the authors:

Dr. Ahmad Hilmy is a lecturer in a public university. His research interest is on Land Use-Transport interaction, Bus service provisions, Area wide Traffic Impact. He spent two years in the Middle East as a Transport Planner, and was engaged in Transport related consultancy service for 10 years in Malaysia before working as a lecturer in the University. He has now worked in universities for a total of 20 years. The experience of working with government and industry in the field has helped him understand the issues and available choices beyond the limits of ivory towered theory.

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Dr. Michael Lim Mah-Hui, has for the last six years served as a city councilman in George Town, Penang, Malaysia. With an international background in economics, finance and public policy, he also has a long time interest in the challenges of sustainable development, livable cities, equitable transport, land use and historical preservation. He is active both as an elected councilor but also as a concerned and active citizen. He is in this, in his own words, for the long haul. He can be contacted at limmahhui(at)  The official website for the City Council of Penang Island is available in English at

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About the editor

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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