Friday, 16 August 2013

Sarawak’s most neglected infrastructure


A month ago, I wrote on the need to widen the Pan Borneo Highway after an accident claimed four lives. Six more have died since.

ROUGHLY 10km of the road between Sri Aman and Betong have claimed 10 lives in under a month. The Pan Borneo Highway, which is also called the Pan Borneo Trunk Road, is surely the most neglected piece of mass infrastructure in the whole of Malaysia.

This is already my fifth opinion piece on the highway. Everytime I write about it, I have highlighted that this is the only network that connects most cities and towns in Sarawak and Sabah.

And in almost every piece, I have also stated that only 10% out of the 2,239km long highway is dual carriageway.

For some 2,000km, the highway is really nothing more than narrow, winding country roads.

A month ago, I was having dinner with my father when he talked about the high rate of accidents that were being highlighted in the Chinese newspapers several times a week.

The next day, reacting to the deaths of four on the highway, I wrote a column, stating that nearly 100 people have been killed on the highway in the first half of this year.

Since then, I have received a list of accident-prone spots along the highway and a list of where more than 240 fatalities have occurred since 2011.

Numbers alone cannot paint a gruesome picture. Photos of mangled bodies and wrecked vehicles do that, but the figures point to a devastating neglect.

The police have classified 35 blackspots along the Sarawak portion of the highway. The deadliest is on Jalan Bintulu-Tanjung Kidurong, where 23 have perished since 2011.

Another danger stretch is around KM53 between Sri Aman and Betong.

This is where in the last month 10 lives have been lost in three accidents. All were within 10km of one another.

On July 10, four Indonesians were killed here when their vehicle collided with a lorry. On Aug 1, four state Islamic officials were killed in a similar fashion.

Last Saturday, two more were killed in a crash. The dead have all been between 20 and 39 years old.

Blackspots are classified by the police as any area where three or more fatal accidents have occurred.

Such information is then passed onto agencies like the Road Safety Department.

Therefore, the authorities know exactly just how dangerous this highway is.

Thirty-five areas where there have been more than three fatal accidents. Just think about that.

Thirty-five! And that is only for the Sara-wak portion of the highway. Yet funds are still not being made available for improvements.

Davina Agnes Enteli is the state director of the Road Safety Department.

A former IT engineer turned public safety advocate, she told me this week her career change was sparked by having lost loved ones to the road.

“Road safety is a very close thing to my heart. I feel passionate about it. I feel it’s a responsibility I have,” Agnes said.

After the last fatal accident near Betong, the department submitted a list of proposals.

They included lowering the speed limit along the 10km stretch and painting on more speed breakers.

“However, these are only short-term measures. We have in the past proposed that roads need to be upgraded.

They need to be widened. We are hoping for a good response in six months,” Agnes said.

“The number of cars is increasing everyday. In terms of public education, we can only target certain groups.

Because the Pan Borneo Highway is the only road that we have, the spectrum of users is very wide.”

Agnes told me she knew KM53 well. It begins with a straight piece of road, she said. The area is hilly.

A motorist is always given a false sense of safety looking ahead. “At KM53, there is the beginning of a curve. It is a S-shape curve.”

The accidents that have occurred were due to line of sight.

“The accidents have occurred either early in the morning, meaning drivers started even earlier, or around the time of thunderstorms.”

There is more to it then that too.

“From Sri Aman, the next rest stop is Betong; from Betong, the next one is Sarikei. These are long journeys. That affects the driver.

“After two hours of driving, people’s concentration wanes off. They go from concentrating on the journey to concentrating on ‘arriving’.”

Plans to upgrade the Pan Borneo Highway into dual-carriageway are contained in the second edition of theHighway Network Development Plan, which was published in 2010.

The authors of the report estimate the cost of the upgrade would be roughly RM22bil, saying the Federal Government deemed kos keseluruhan yang tinggi (high overall cost).

As such, the report said the upgrade would be carried outberperingkat-peringkat (in stages) bermula dari tahun 2011 kepada 2025 (starting from the year 2011 until 2025).

If the statistics of the past two years continue to hold true until 2025, then might 1,000 more lives be lost to the Pan Borneo Highway?

The Sarawak and Sabah state governments must tell the Federal Government this is unacceptable. The Federal Government must not overstate the quantity of ringgit for quality of life. - The Star Online

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