Wider Causeway just one step KL is mulling over to ease congestion

KUALA LUMPUR (The Straits Times/ANN) - Initiatives considered include increasing funding for the two entry points, forming a single border agency to oversee all the country's borders and entry points including ports, and conducting a study to identify issues and challenges in planning for future capacity needs.

Malaysia is considering a slew of measures to ease congestion at the Causeway, including expanding the link, building a covered walkway and creating a shipping lane, it said yesterday.

A special committee chaired by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had met for the first time on Wednesday to discuss ways to resolve the long-standing traffic problem at the two links connecting Malaysia's Johor state with Singapore - the Causeway in Woodlands as well as the Second Link in Tuas.

Travellers now take between 40 minutes and two hours to clear the 1.06km-long Causeway during peak hours. More than 300,000 people use the Causeway daily.

According to a statement by the Home Ministry yesterday, initiatives considered include increasing funding for the two entry points, forming a single border agency to oversee all the country's borders and entry points including ports, and conducting a study to identify issues and challenges in planning for future capacity needs.

Deputy Home Minister Mohd Azis Jamman announced last month the proposal to form a single agency to coordinate operations at the two entry points, to boost efficiency and reduce congestion.

He said it was necessary to create a single agency as there are 23 government agencies from various ministries stationed at the Customs and Immigration Checkpoint at Bangunan Sultan Iskandar and 13 agencies at Kompleks Sultan Abu Bakar Checkpoint, both in Johor.

These include offices of the immigration, Customs, road transport and health departments, the police and the highway operator.

The meeting on Wednesday agreed to set up a sub-committee comprising several ministers and representatives of the Johor state government, to be chaired by the Home Minister, to follow up on initiatives and fine-tune them.

The proposals include widening and extending the Causeway, building a covered pedestrian walkway, setting up a shipping lane and expanding existing entry points.

Earlier this year, the Johor government said it was looking to build a 1.2km walkway on the Causeway at an estimated cost of RM15 million (S$5 million).

Johor Public Works, Infrastructure and Transportation Committee chairman Mohd Solihan Badri had said the idea was mooted after the state government found that many people risked their lives walking across the link without proper facilities to ensure their safety.

Commuters often walk across the Causeway during peak hours to avoid being stuck in traffic. Many of them spill over into vehicle lanes before continuing their journey on public transport upon reaching Singapore, he added. The footpath will be built on existing motorcycle lanes on both sides of the Causeway.

The Home Ministry did not elaborate on how a shipping lane would ease congestion, although a similar proposal had cropped up in 2003, when Tun Dr Mahathir mooted the idea of an S-shaped highway to replace the Malaysian side of the Causeway that would allow vessels to pass underneath. The so-called crooked bridge plan was dropped by then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi when he took over from Dr Mahathir in 2003.

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