First of all, what are the problems the bridge is meant to solve? As the colloquial saying goes: “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it”. We, the taxpayers do not want to be saddled with white elephants that are solutions looking for problems that do not exist.
Worse still, it could create new problems that would necessitate further mitigating measures. We also do not accept the post hoc argument whereby the problems created by a project necessitates its own existence.
Second question, is the bridge the only or best solution for the purported problems stated above? And finally, do we have the funds to build the bridge? Is it so urgent that it cannot wait?
The rationales for building the bridge have not been systematically articulated or conveyed. They have only been mentioned off-handedly as afterthoughts. To the best of my recollection, they are mainly variations of the three reasons below:
1. It will allow pollutants to flow freely from one side of the causeway to the other, instead of accumulating at the causeway.
2. It will allow boats to sail along the Johor Straits from one end of the coast to the other.
3. It will alleviate traffic flow between Malaysia and Singapore.
As time goes on, more justifications may be put forward but they can only be viewed as arguments to rationalise a decision that has already been made, very much like the way US rationalised the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Such rationalisations often end badly, because the decision made wasn’t based on sound judgement.
For the sake of argument, we will give our PM the benefit of the doubt and assume the above three reasons were considered before the idea of the bridge was floated.
Let us apply the second question to the rationales provided above.
Is the bridge the best solution to reduce pollution in the sea? Clearly, it only allows pollutants to shift from one area to the next. The amount of pollution is still the same. If we want to reduce pollution, whether they are plastic bottles or industrial effluent, we should reduce it at the source and not allow it to accumulate along the Johor Straits in the first place.
If the pollution on both sides just mix together to form a more toxic mixture, what then? As a responsible global citizen, we should not create pollution for other countries or future generations to clean up.
Clearing any existing garbage accumulated at the causeway is definitely far cheaper than building a bridge. For the price of the bridge, we could clear it every month until the end of time. In the meantime, the money could be used more profitably on other projects.
On to the second reason. The amount of time that can be saved for cargo ships to travel the Straits of Johor instead of going around Singapore is limited. So the payoff is limited, even if at all possible.
The maximum depth of the Johor Straits is 12 metres. We assume it is somewhere in the middle and the depth is the same the entire length of the straits. If we build a half bridge, it can only be on the Malaysian side, so the maximum depth under the bridge will be much lower than 12 metres.
Container ships are rated in terms of loading capacity called TEU. They range from 1000 to over 20000 TEU. All except the smallest have drafts (the depth of a ship underwater) greater than 12 metres. If we consider the reduced depth of water on one side of the straits, practically none can navigate the water.
Even the smallest ships would have trouble navigating unless they are only half loaded or totally empty. This will definitely necessitate deepening of the straits. The “solution” creates more problems.
Many fish farms operate along the straits. Big ships discharge pollutants and leaks so letting big boats travel so near these farms will definitely affect their viability. This rationale also contradicts the first one.
So no cargo ships. What kind of boats then? Yachts? The Equanimity has a draft of 4 metres. So it can safely sail through, provided the bridge is built high enough. But then there will be a steep curve coming down to meet the causeway on the Singapore side unless of course the bridge is lengthened. This is precisely the reason why the bridge has to be built crooked in order to reduce the rate of descent. A simple bridge turns out to be not so simple after all.
Furthermore, who benefits from the ability to sail along the straits? There is a bigger and longer straits next to it, the Malacca Straits. Why go through all this trouble and spend billions of taxpayers’ money to build a monstrosity so that only a select few can enjoy traversing in style?
Why don’t we ask them to pay for the bridge instead? If the bridge is not important enough for them to pay, it is not important enough for ordinary taxpayers to pay.
Has the government considered how the traffic congestion on the causeway will worsen for thousands of commuters during the construction phase? This is one of those hidden costs often borne by ordinary Malaysians that is never accounted for.
Now the final justification, alleviating traffic flow between Malaysia and Singapore. Anyone who travels regularly between Malaysia and Singapore knows that traffic congestion often originates at the narrowest point of the road or along the slowest moving lane.
Widening only half the causeway will not alleviate the traffic because the bottleneck is the checkpoint. If alleviating traffic flow is the real reason, we should build another bridge and improve the efficiency at the checkpoint. Otherwise, no matter how wide we build the bridge, traffic will only flow as fast as the checkpoint permits.
As we can see, none of the justifications to build the crooked bridge hold any water. Even if we disregard all reasons, one still faces the question of where does the money to build the bridge come from?
When the new government postponed, deferred or outright cancelled mega-projects in order to balance the budget, our education system falters and hospitals crumbling; one cannot help but wonder what is the urgency in building this bridge?
I can only speculate that only personal ego is involved or the bridge is designed to benefit a certain crony contractor. Building this bridge accomplishes nothing except cutting our nose to spite our face.