Sunday, January 16, 2011

Penang Bridge: A 40-year dream bridged reality

Some 60,000 people were excited to walk across the bridge a week prior to the official opening.
Penang Bridge: Some 60,000 people were excited to walk across the bridge a week prior to the official opening.
ON Sept 14, 1985, the Penang Bridge was officially opened to the public by the then deputy prime minister Tun Musa Hitam.

A week prior to the official opening, a party was thrown on the bridge to celebrate the three-and-a-half years of hard work and sacrifices put into it.

Some 60,000 people were invited to walk across the RM850 million bridge.

That was the first and only party held on the bridge throughout its more than 25-year history.

Indeed, the mood was one of celebration that day, but it wasn't always so.

There were many challenges as well as a lot of hardships endured when the bridge was being constructed.

It took 40 years for the bridge, which links Penang Island to the mainland, to become a reality.

It was a topic which was heavily debated during elections.

There were also protests from those who did not agree to the construction of the Penang Bridge.

Even after completion, it was criticised.

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) president S.M. Mohamed Idris, for instance, described the project as a white elephant.

"We had opposed the bridge project because of the large amount of money involved. We felt it could have been used for other basic needs.

"We were also against the bridge because we felt it would bring about adverse environmental effects.

"We felt it would affect sea currents and encourage more vehicles to enter the island.

"This would lead to poor air quality and higher carbon emissions."

Others who objected to the bridge included DAP founder member Yeap Ghim Guan, who would always be remembered for his famous pledge to jump off the bridge if the government could complete it in five years.

Fortunately, he was spared the swim because the bridge took longer than that to complete.

Yeap was a one-term assemblyman for Kelawei in 1969 and also Penang DAP chairman from 1965 to 1977. He died in March 2007 after a long illness.

Now, after 27 years, the bridge has become indispensable.

Motorists commuting from the mainland to the island and vice versa daily for both work and pleasure are completely reliant on it.

What's also interesting about the bridge during construction was that many believed that it was haunted.

This was because during the course of construction, many workers died. Most of them drowned.

Word has it that the mid-span of the bridge was a "kawasan bertandang" (an area where jinns gathered). Pas deputy spiritual leader Datuk Dr Haron Din was asked to "chase" away the jinns.

Penang Bridge, a dual-carriageway toll bridge is one the longest bridge in the world.

Preliminary work including the design of the bridge was carried out by the late Professor Tan Sri Chin Fung Kee, a well known authority on geotechnical engineering.

He began as early as the 1980s but actual construction only started in April 1982.

It has since been expanded from four lanes to six lanes to accommodate the increasing traffic on the bridge while the second link between Penang island and the mainland had been approved under the Ninth Malaysia Plan.

The bridge has an overall length of 13.5km, with 8.4km over water. The four towers in mid-span are 101.5m tall, and the bridge is 33m above water.

The total length of piling for the bridge is 648km, equal to the distance from Butterworth to Johor Baru.

The bridge can withstand earthquakes of up to 7.5 on the Richter scale.

More than 2,300 people were involved in the construction, including about 800 South Koreans from the main contractor, Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co Ltd.

Twenty workers died in the construction, with the worst tragedy occurring on Oct 20, 1984, when five were killed when a crossbeam collapsed.

*Taken from NST Online
*For Penang Bridge Specifications, click here.
*To view Penang Bridge Widening Project on Youtube, click here.

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