Construction workers toil from dawn to dusk, racing against time to complete a number of expressways, especially in the Klang Valley.
Promising to ease traffic and cut journeys, the East Klang Valley Expressway (EKVE), Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Expressway (SUKE) and Damansara-Shah Alam Elevated Expressway (DASH), among others, will come at a price – paying more toll.
The projects, allegedly with links to the previous administration, had faced roadblocks since the early days. Stakeholders, including residents and environmental groups, lamented the bad alignment plans that cut through (or were constructed just metres away from) homes and forest reserves.
Criticism continues and poor construction management is evident.
Said to be the voice of Ampang residents, Twitter account @1Ampang has been vocal in demanding a peaceful and comfortable living environment.
Those behind the account have highlighted several wrong-doings at SUKE construction sites, namely potholes, and dusty and muddy roads. Others have lamented the lack or non-existence of pedestrian walkways, dark roads at night and overall poor project management.
Similar frustrations are shared by those in other areas over flash floods, landslips and hazards posed by these expressways, including highway alignments which are ‘hanging’ just above their homes.
Frustrations have also been vented over the construction of the other expressways.
The Pakatan Harapan (PH) administration had repeatedly blamed the previous Barisan Nasional government for approving these expressways. The narrative by the BN government was confusing as approval for these projects came at the same time when calls were made to encourage the people to use public transportation.
PH had in its manifesto promised to rid toll in stages if the coalition won the 14th general election on May 9.
Win the coalition did, but now it will be guilty of adding more tolled roads – reversing its pledge to the people – if its leaders are pictured launching these new expressways.
Having spent millions of ringgit, those behind these highways cannot afford to be charitable by doing away with toll. And naturally, contracts have already been signed and if concession agreements were to be terminated, it would result in hefty payouts by the government.
Even Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had in October said it was impossible to do away with tolled roads. Speaking to reporters at the end of the inaugural Asean Leaders Gathering in Bali, Dr Mahathir said he was against the toll-free pledge, adding: “You tell the private sector to do the roads. They want to make money, but if you don’t have toll, how can you make money?”
Those within the inner circles are already cringing, thinking of ways to beef up their script when it is time to open these new highways. And judging by the timelines, some of these expressways could be fully operational by 2020, if not earlier.
“Obviously the operator would want a senior minister or even the Prime Minister to launch the opening of the highway. But it’s a dreaded launch that could result in a political backlash,” said a ranking government official.
“People have plenty of aspirations for the new government and launching tolled roads will not send the right signals.”
While the association of PH leaders with these new highways remains to be seen, local councils in the Klang Valley, including the Petaling Jaya City Council, Ampang Jaya Municipal Council and the Kajang Municipal Council, have been lambasted for their lack of enforcement and deafening silence on construction work which is said to be breaching regulations.
And if the lax enforcement persists, anger will intensify to a point that PH and the highway operators will face the wrath of the people.