Replacing the Johor-Singapore Causeway: to bridge, or not to bridge

https://www.themalaysianinsight.com/s/107386

Introduction

The proposed “crooked” bridge project over the Strait of Johor was scrapped by the Malaysian government on April 12, 2006. It has been twelve years since the project had stopped progressing. Recently, there were proposals to revive this project.

With the nation now said to be plagued with huge amounts of debts, are there any prospects for the revival of such an ambitious project?

The Causeway

Singapore was no longer completely an island when the Johor-Singapore 1,056m-long Causeway was opened for traffic in 1927. Being the first land link between the Malay Peninsula and Singapore, it was considered an engineering marvel at that time. Currently, the Johor Causeway connects the Malaysian city of Johor Baru to the Singaporean town of Woodlands, carrying approximately 60,000 vehicles per day. The Johor Causeway also carries through it water supply pipes as well as a railway track. Other than the causeway, the island of Singapore is also linked to Johor via the 1.92km Johor Second Link, which commenced operations in 1998.

The Johor Causeway does possess some disadvantages. Unlike the Johor Second Link Bridge that allow ships to pass underneath, the Johor Causeway practically sealed the Johor Strait from shipping activities. Vessels sailing from the Port of Tanjung Pelepas in south-east Johor have to go around Singapore in order to get to the Port of Pasir Gudang, adding considerably to the time of voyage.

As the Johor Causeway disallows water from flowing freely through the Strait of Johor, causing marine pollution affecting areas in and around the city of Johor Baru. With the increasing traffic getting in and out of Singapore and Johor Baru each year, the 89-year-old Johor Causeway may soon no longer be able to serve its purpose and therefore has to be replaced with a bridge.

The Proposed Crooked Bridge

The idea of replacing the Johor Causeway with a bridge was first mooted by the then-prime minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir Mohamad on July 5, 1996. After a series of negotiations, Malaysia and Singapore were unable to agree to build a straight bridge to replace the Johor Causeway.

The crooked bridge will be built at a height of 25m above water level and descending halfway to link up with the Singaporean side of the causeway. It is reputed to be the first scenic S-shaped bridge in the world, if completed, enhancing Johor Baru’s reputation as the southern tourism gateway of Malaysia. In April 2006, the fifth prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, announced the cancellation of the said project, resulting the Malaysian government to pay a huge amount of compensation to the parties involved.

Revisiting the crooked bridge project

Ever since the Iskandar Malaysia Project was introduced in 2006, the southern region of Johor has experienced rapid modernisation. The development region encompasses an area of 2,217 square km covering the city of Johor Baru and the adjoining towns of Pontian, Senai, Pasir Gudang and the establishment of a new administrative capital in Nusajaya. As such, Malaysia should reconsider reviving the aborted proposed crooked bridge project – a project that may further enhance Johor’s potential as the region’s premier shipping hub.

The elevated height of the proposed crooked bridge would allow easy passage for vessels, reopening the Strait of Johor to maritime navigation after 88 years, providing better route between the two main ports of Johor namely the Port of Tanjung Pelepas and the Port of Pasir Gudang. Furthermore, the proposed  bridge would not only lessen traffic congestion in Johor Baru city centre but would also reduce marine pollution in what used to be a dead-end Strait.

Nevertheless, is it really a necessity for Malaysia to construct the iconic bridge now? Even if it may reopen the Johor Strait to navigation, would it be able to curb the ongoing traffic congestion in the city of Johor Baru?

Malaysians have been constantly reminded that the nation is now plagued with debts amounting to trillions of ringgit. Based on this fact, an in-depth feasibility study to revive such a project should be conducted beforehand. Unlike Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley, the city of Johor Baru is not equipped with efficient rail transit system. This might be the reason why the city is facing problems of traffic congestion as most city dwellers have no other choice but to resort to using private transportation to commute.

As thousands of Johoreans and Singaporeans criss-cross the Johor Strait everyday for work and leisure, rather than reviving the proposed crooked-bridge project, the government should instead focus its priority on the ongoing development of the Johor Baru-Singapore Rapid Transit System (RTS), a rail network of about 4.2km linking Mandai in Singapore to Bukit Chagar in Malaysia. RTS should be supported and expedited – not cancelled or delayed like the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High-Speed Rail project. The existence of an efficient public transportation system linking both nations would facilitate public mobility and boost economic growth for both Malaysia and Singapore, enhancing Johor Baru’s reputation as Malaysia’s global city of the south.

Conclusion

The crooked bridge is an ambitious project which may generate wealth, prosperity and prestige to the nation. If it really is to be revived, the proposed crooked bridge project should be integrated with the RTS.

Nevertheless, there are two main issues the Malaysian government has to ponder upon – should it be built in the current economic situation where the nation is now plagued with large amounts of debts, and would this proposed project provide the people of Johor Baru with efficient public transportation facilities providing better mobilities between two nations? – October 29, 2018.

* Mohd Hazmi Mohd Rusli is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Shariah and Law, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia. Roman Dremliuga is an associate professor at the School of Law, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok, Russia.

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