The Second Penang Bridge, the longest bridge in Southeast Asia, opens tonight, easing traffic in the rapidly industrialising northern state of Penang.
Totalling 24 km in length, it will take motorists around 20 minutes to cross the RM4.5 billion bridge from Batu Kawan on the mainland and Batu Maung on the island.
Penang island already has another bridge linking it to the mainland. The first bridge opened in 1985 but the state’s rising population and popularity with visitors meant that another bridge was needed to cope with traffic.
The new bridge is expected to ease traffic by 25 per cent and will it last for the next 120 years, according to its concessionaire, Jambatan Kedua Sdn Bhd (JKSB).
One of the big questions posed by Penangites had been: why is the bridge not straight, but curved? Would not a straight bridge costs less?
JKSB construction director Hamizol Ngah was quoted in English daily The Star in November 2012 saying that the curvy design deliberately chosen to reduce traffic accidents.
“This is to prevent drivers from getting drowsy, discourage speeding and improve road concentration,” said Hamizol.
“Such a design requirement was not mooted for the 8.4 km Penang Bridge as it is shorter.”
Penangites might also question why the design is so similar to the first bridge.
Initially, there were plans for two viewing platforms, complete with restaurants, but that was scrapped due to a lack of funds. The platforms would have added another RM600mil to the cost.
The plan for a second bridge was unveiled by Putrajaya in the Ninth Malaysia Plan in August 2006, and the groundbreaking ceremony was held three months later.
The project was announced by Malaysia’s then fifth prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, himself a Penangite, three years after he took over from his predecessor.
Beijing-based China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd (CHEC) won the main contract for the first package, which included the bridge and foundation works.
According to Reuters CHEC is China’s largest international contractor and the second-largest dredging company in the world, with projects mostly in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
The second major package which included structures for the approaches to the bridge was constructed by UEM Builders Sdn Bhd, a subsidiary of local conglomerate UEM Group.
UEM’s previous projects included the North-South Expressway, the Malaysia-Singapore Second Link, and RapidKL’s light rail transit (LRT) system.
The project commenced in November 2008 after a nine-month delay due to land acquisition and design issues, in addition to the rising costs of building materials.
CHEC and UEM previously announced that the bridge will be completed by 2011, but it was not until April 2013 that construction of the main span was completed, physically connecting Batu Kawan and Batu Maung.
The bridge had been previously scheduled to open in November last year.
The delay was also partly caused by a collapse of the ramp in the Batu Maung interchange leading to the bridge in June 2013, causing one death.
Around 10,000 revellers are expected to attend the launch by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak tonight.
Motorists will be charged a toll rate between RM7 and RM10 starting from March 2, according to JKSB.