Who are these 6 new highways for?

BY SHERIDAN MAHAVERA
Published: 2 July 2014

“Who benefits?”

That is the question being asked by residents whose lives have been turned upside down by the six new highways planned in Selangor.So far, four of those projects – SUKE (Sungei Besi-


Hulu Klang Expressway), DASH (Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Expressway), EKVE (East Klang Valley Expressway) and the latest Kidex (Kinrara-Damansara Expressway) – have attracted fierce opposition from residents in Cheras, Kota Damansara, Ampang and Petaling Jaya.



Residents said of the highways would cut through dense housing areas and displace communities that go back to the early 1950s.
They would also pollute the neighbourhoods, endanger pedestrians during their construction and clog up local roads.


The EKVE could potentially have the widest impact. It is slated to carve through the heart of a protected forest that is critical to Selangor’s raw water supply system.


The Malaysian Highway Authority (MHA) which proposed the highway said that it is to meet the traffic needs of the future. But no one, except for the Selangor government, has been able to scrutinise this claim.


And throughout many of the emotionally charged briefings, rallies and press conferences by upset residents come a recurring theme – that the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat state administration is failing to live up to its promises.


For if not managed well, the controversy of these highways would tarnish Pakatan’s aim of making Selangor a model of what a future Pakatan federal administration would look like.


No holistic plan



Menteri Besar Tan Sri Abdul Khalid Ibrahim said the six highways were part of an integrated network that is supposed to meet the Klang Valley’s traffic needs.


All are tolled highways that have been approved by the MHA. The plan was presented to Selangor by the MHA on June 25.


They are the EKVE, SUKE, DASH, Serdang Kinrara Putrajaya Expressway (SKIP), West Coast Highway (LPB) and Kidex.


Yet a look at the past few years of protests by residents towards three of the highways, challenges the notion that there was a holistic plan to begin with.


In the case of DASH, SUKE and EKVE, residents said they woke up one day and found that a mega-project was dropped in front of their gates.


None of the highways was in the local council plan for Kota Damansara, Petaling Jaya and Cheras. These plans basically draw out all future and current development in a given area.


If it was not in the local plan, it could not be built without first getting residents' input to amend the plan, said Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah.


J Colin M Stuart, a member of a residents’ group that wants the SUKE realigned said when home owners bought their homes in Bukit Manda'rina, Cheras , there was no mention of a highway that would slice through their neighbourhood.


"Had we been informed by the developer (of the project) we would not have bought our homes," said Stuart of the group Tak Nak SUKE, which has organised rallies against the project starting in 2012.


Residents found out about the highway through newspapers and later saw the plan displayed in a supermarket.


In its current alignment, SUKE would cut through among others, Taman Bukit Cheras, Taman Len Seng and Taman Bukit Manda’rina, some of which have been there since the 1970s.


According to a October 2013 report in The Star, SUKE is being built by Prolintas Sdn Bhd and is supposed to reduce congestion on the Middle Ring Road 2 (MRR2).


The 31.8km three-lane, dual-carriageway will start in Sri Petaling before passing through Sungai Besi, Alam Damai, Cheras-Kajang, Taman Bukit Permai, Taman Putra, Taman Permai Jaya, Taman Dagang Permai, Taman Kosas, Ampang and Taman Hillview and exit at Hulu Klang.


The same thing happened in the case of DASH and KIDEX. Residents claimed that they looked like ad-hoc projects that had been slapped on to dense and congested neighbourhoods with little foresight.


On the other hand, Khalid said MHA's integrated highway network was necessary because of the projected increase in the number of vehicles in the Klang Valley.


Kidex, for instance, is supposed to be an alternative to the already clogged Lebuhraya Damansara Puchong. Its developer claimed it is meant to help those who have to commute from Puchong in the south to Bandar Utama to the north.


Prolintas, which is building the DASH, claimed the project would support the increase in population and vehicles in the U10 Shah Alam, Subang, Kota Damansara and Damansara areas.

According to a report in Star Business in February 2013, the EKVE is supposed to provide a bypass for motorists from the southern part of the Klang Valley to travel northeast to Selayang, Gombak and the Karak Highway without going through Kuala Lumpur.


Backlash


In its promise that it is better than its rival Barisan Nasional, Pakatan has consistently claimed it will do business differently.


Instead of imposing mega-projects on hapless residents, it promised to consult those who were the most affected.


But the lack of proper consultation is repeated in the protests against DASH, Kidex, SUKE and the EKVE.


For instance, after they had the attention of their MP in 2012, the Tak Nak SUKE group agreed to work with an independent consultant chosen by the state government.


The consultant was supposed to interview all affected residents to modify the original alignment to bypass their neighbourhoods.


But when the report came out in October 2013, the consultant had crafted an alignment that still sliced through the housing estates. No resident was interviewed by the consultant as per conditions set out by the state government, said Stuart.


The MP who brokered the process was none other than Khalid, in his first term as Bandar Tun Razak MP.


“That’s why we feel betrayed and sold out by the MP and Pakatan Rakyat,” said Stuart.


In the EKVE’s case, World Wildlife Fund for Nature Malaysia said that allowing the highway to cut through two protected forests in Ampang and Ulu Gombak contradicted promises and policies made by both the state and federal governments.


According to the National Physical Plan 2, which lays down sustainable land use, no development, logging or agriculture, is allowed in areas classified as protected areas – of which the Ampang and Ulu Gombak protected forests are part.


“Strengthening efforts to rehabilitate and conserve state forests as major sites for water catchments and green lungs are one of the commitments made by the Pakatan Rakyat Selangor in the 13th general election manifesto,” said WWF Malaysia in a statement to object to the EKVE’s current alignment.


Who benefits?


Except for Kidex, the other three have not made public any reports on the impact they are supposed to have in bringing down congestion.


Even in the case of Kidex, a clutch of Selangor DAP lawmakers claimed to have gotten a leaked copy of the preliminary Traffic Impact Assessment (TIA).


Resident groups also find it hard to get access to the required social (SIA) and environmental impact reports (EIA).


Even though their campaign started two years ago, Stuart said the Tak Nak SUKE group still has not seen a page of the project’s TIA, EIA or SIA.


In a meeting with the anti-DASH, KIDEX and SUKE groups on June 18, Sivarasa, whose constituency DASH runs through, said none of the reports on the Kota Damansara project had been submitted to the local council.


In EKVE’s case, it would disrupt a perfectly functional water collection system at a time when the state faces water shortages. The Selangor park which contains the Ampang and Ulu Gombak protected forests, supply 90% of the state’s water resources.


"Spending money to look for additional water resources and at the same time proposing to clear existing catchment forests does not make sense," said WWF-Malaysia land use policy analyst Sarada Srinivasan.


Sivarasa said much of the current controversy over these six projects was because the state had, unfortunately, created a perception that they would proceed no matter what.


In reality, final approval for any of them was a long way off because the developers were only starting the process of preparing the reports, he said.


Sivarasa said once those reports have been submitted to the local council, the real work of determining whether the projects should go on would start.


Seen in this way, the controversies over these highways are an opportunity both for the state and for affected residents to debate about how to move people around in the coming years as the population grows in the country’s richest state.


“It’s also about how best to finance these projects. If they really benefited the public, why is the federal government not paying for them and then charging a minimal toll to cover cost and operations?


“Also where is the public transport proposal and is that better than having all these highways?”
But without the traffic, environment and social impact reports, it would be hard not to see the projects as attempts by politically connected individuals to make money.
“We are not in favour of projects with closed tenders to cronies, but that is what they look like right now,” said Sivarasa. – July 2, 2014.
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