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A road filled with positives

LAST week I went on a short visit to Sarikei for a cousin’s wedding dinner.

There are several ways to get to Sarikei, a small town on the Rajang River near where it makes its way to the South China Sea, from Kuching.

 The first and probably most common route is to go by road on what is now essentially a construction site for the largest infrastructure project in Sarawak, the upgrading of the trunk road into the Pan Borneo Highway.

It’s a drive that will take five to six hours, depending on your speed and how many stops you make along the way.

A second way is to go by express boat, which takes you from the Kuching passenger terminal at Pending out to sea and into the Rajang River. It’s a quicker journey than going by road, taking under four hours, but definitely less comfortable if you’re prone to seasickness.

The more logistically challenging (and expensive) route would be to fly to Sibu and then travel by road for just over an hour to Sarikei.

So Sarikei is not the quickest place to get to but it’s a trip we make ever so often for important family occasions.

Normally we go once every two years for Chinese New Year but as it turned out, last week’s visit was my second in just over a month this year, with the first for an uncle’s 79th birthday in June.

On the latest trip we hitched a ride with a friend who was driving to Miri and set off bright and early in the morning.

Traffic was not very heavy, probably because it was a public holiday in the middle of the week.

Along the route we could see ongoing construction works for the Pan Borneo Highway project, including land being cleared and levelled for widening the existing road or for new road alignments.

At various sections there were diversions from the usual route, calling for careful driving and close attention. This naturally slowed our progress but it’s a small price to pay for what will eventually be a double-carriageway highway from the western tip of Sarawak in Telok Melano to the northernmost town of Lawas and onwards to Sabah.

The highway is long-overdue project which was finally launched in 2015 by the previous administration after years of requests from Sarawak and Sabah, and is continuing under the present Federal Government.

New Works Minister Baru Bian has said that he will personally monitor the project and plans to visit its various construction sites in Sarawak and Sabah to ensure its successful and timely completion.

He has also said that the project’s implementation would be reviewed based on technical and financial considerations, with a view towards reducing its cost.

Indeed, the highway project should continue as it is a much-needed improvement to road connectivity in the state, but at the same time it should be implemented properly.

The Sarawak stretch of the highway from Telok Melano to Miri is scheduled to be completed in 2021.

Hopefully by then a road trip to Sarikei will be a quicker, safer and a more comfortable journey.

Source: The Star