|Singapore Bitumen Supplier|
BINTULU: After waiting for nearly five decades, the dream of the people of Sabah and Sarawak of having a modern highway cutting across two of Malaysia’s largest states is finally being realised, with the Pan-Borneo Highway expected to be completed within five years.
Spanning 1,089km from Telok Melano and Sematan to Lawas, the mega project was initiated by the Barisan Nasional government under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, with an allocation of RM14.2 billion for the Sarawak portion alone.
The first phase of the project — Pan-Borneo Highway Sarawak — was officially launched by the prime minister in Bintulu on March 31, 2015. Construction along a 43km-stretch from Nyabau to the Bakun junction began soon after.
The largest infrastructure development project in the state was announced by Najib as part of the ruling coalition’s manifesto in the 13th General Election (GE13).
It made history as the first highway project, with a four-lane dual carriageway of JKR R5 standard, to be built toll-free.
The highway is expected to spur local development and enhance the people’s socio-economic status, including through the creation of many new towns along the highways and boosting the tourism sector.
“It (highway) will bring a lot of changes to Sarawak, not just in the context of development, but also by boosting the socio-economic level of its people,” said Najib.
His confidence is based on the success of the North-South Expressway (PLUS) project, which had brought numerous developmental impacts from Johor all the way to Perlis.
Najib, who is also BN chairman, said the project was seen as an “agent of change” which would be capable of bringing changes to the development of the state, especially in the rural areas and contribute positively to the socio-economy of the people, such as creating jobs and business opportunities.
In terms of implementation, he said, it benefited the local contractors through the Project-Deliver Partnerships (PDP) method, in particular Sarawak’s Bumiputera companies.
The mega project is seen as part of efforts to bridge the development gap between the Peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak, and as such, is being closely monitored to ensure it will be completed on schedule to avoid the people in both states being left waiting.
A check by the New Straits Times Press (NSTP) showed that the construction work on the first phase, involving the Nyabau to Simpang junctions, was proceeding smoothly.
A resident, Kizie Matusup, 36, said the construction of the highway was a blessing as it would make it easier for people to travel from the north to the south of the state, which was currently a half day’s journey.
“We need about 12 to 13 hours to travel from Kuching to Miri. It takes us longer during peak seasons, which is exhausting.
“Sometimes, we need to make a stop overnight in Sibu before continuing our journey, which increases our travel expenses.
“Once the highway is completed, we expect the travel time to be reduced by at least half,” he said.
The construction of the highway, which began three years ago, has already started contributing to economic growth, particularly the local food and beverage business as well as shops selling daily necessities and other local products.
In Sarawak, the 11 work packages under the first phase of the highway are being implemented accordingly, with the majority involving the upgrading of the federal road from two to four lanes, except the Melano-Sematan route.
The 32.7km-long road was a new route constructed upon the request of the late chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, consisting of bridges and other facilities such as rest and recreation stops.
As for Sabah, it involves 35 work packages worth RM12.8 billion, which begins from Sindumin, Sipitang to Tawau with seven packages implemented between April 2016 and December last year.
Borneo Highway PDP (BHP) Sdn Bhd managing director Shahelmey Yahya said the handover of the remaining project package to the contractor was expected to be completed by the end of June, with 10 of them on the west coast, while another 18 packages were in the central and east coast of Sabah.
“As of March, 10 new packages have been approved by the Finance Ministry.
“Four more packages are pending approval of allocation, while 14 packages are in the tender process and the preliminary engineering assessment phase,” he said.
The project also involves the construction of three new routes, namely, Putatan-Inanam known as Kota Kinabalu Outer Ring Road (KKOR), the Tuaran-Kudat Coastal Road and the Lahad Datu Bypass.
Shahelmey said based on current developments, the supply of construction materials was sufficient, thus, he was confident that the project could be completed on schedule.
He gave his assurance that the implementation of the project was proceeding smoothly after the tender process and the packages had been handed over to the appointed contractors.
“If there are any problems, it may have been due to weather conditions and land acquisition processes that delayed the work, but we have reminded all contractors to resolve the minor issues immediately to ensure that the project can be completed on schedule,” he said.