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Pan Borneo Highway project needs to be looked into

MIRI: The upgrading project of the 1,000km long Pan Borneo Highway in Sarawak must be put on the fast-track.

The project, started by the earlier administration three years ago, has been in limbo for the past few months during the build-up to the 14th general election and during the change of Government from the Barisan Nasional administration to Pakatan Harapan.

 During the past three years, work on the ground in various districts was also patchy and slow at times due to technical complexities such as water and gas piping and wiring connections.

There were also delays caused by native-land protests and land-compensation cases.

 During GE14, there were uncertainties over the future financing of the project and it was in limbo.

On Monday, the new Government more or less settled its full Cabinet line-up, with Sarawak PKR chairman and Selangau MP Baru Bian appointed the new Works Minister.

Now that the ministerial posts have been filled, it is time to not just restart the groundwork for the Pan Borneo upgrade, but to put the whole project on the fast-track.

More than three million people in Sarawak stand to benefit once the 1,000km land link from Sematan in southernmost Sarawak to Miri is upgraded from the present two lanes to four lanes.

From Miri, the highway passes through Brunei to Limbang and Lawas districts in northernmost Sarawak and then onwards into Sabah.

Another three million people in Sabah stand to benefit once the highway is upgraded.

Bian needs to relook the various packages of works awarded to the contractors of the highway on the Sarawak side.

There were claims that the awarding of the contracts were controversial and given to certain companies aligned to politicians in Sarawak. Those allegations cropped up too during the campaigning period for GE14.

Bian will do well to sort out these controversies swiftly and then he must restart the project.

The blueprint by the new Federal Government to upgrade the Pan Borneo Highway in Sarawak and Sabah must include design changes to the present alignment of the present route in order to remove all the danger stretches that are causing serious and fatal accidents.

It is not enough for the highway to be widened into four lanes without the current routes being adjusted and realigned.

Removing the danger stretches along the highway must be a top priority as the number of serious and fatal accidents have surged every year.

The present route of the Pan Bormeo Highway from Kuching to Miri has many stretches with sharp bends and blind spots. The ministry must make sure these danger areas are removed.

The upgrading cannot just focus on widening these existing routes into four lanes.

The upgrading must also focus on straightening these bends and getting rid of blind spots or accidents will continue.

A superhighway must be wide and straight, not zig-zagging here and there.

Information on the present upgrading plan for the highway showed that most of the present alignment would be maintained by the Public Works Department that is overseeing the project.

This is not good enough and road-users want the present alignment to be corrected so that the dangerous bends and blind spots will be done away with.

Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Tun Razak kicked off the upgrading works in March 2015 when he was still the prime minister.

The entire upgrade of the highway in Sarawak and Sabah was to cost RM25bil and will take at least another seven years before it will be finished.

Bian must fast-track the whole project and see that it is finished before 2020.

Source: The Star