The cost of building the mass rapid transit (MRT) transport system, which is scheduled to begin construction in six months, may swell beyond the projected RM36.6bil as developers and residents have begun lobbying on the proposed locations and types of stations.
Business leaders want the MRT stations to be located close to the centre of commercial activity, in some cases where they have projects or plan to build one, but residents living near or adjacent to the proposed lines have voiced objection against the MRT tracks being built above ground and want the lines and stations to be underground so as to avoid congestion and noise pollution issues.
At the heart of the matter is the alignment of the MRT line, particularly where it should go, where it should stop, and lobbying have begun to have more than 9.5km of the first phase of the 60km Sg Buloh-Kajang line constructed underground.
The entire MRT line is estimated to run a total of 150km at a cost of RM36.6bil. Other lines will be added later. All these lines, together with the existing Star, LRT and Komuter rail will form part of the country's Urban Transport master plan.
At the session with business communities, developers who own shopping malls and commercial developments were lobbying for the line and station to be located at, or as close to their commercial properties as possible.
“We are willing to adopt' a station,” said a source from Uptown's See Hoy Chan Sdn Bhd over the telephone. The company is a different entity from See Hoy Chan Holdings Group which built Bandar Utama and the highly-popular 1 Utama mall. The owners of both companies are cousins.
Uptown's See Hoy Chan is planning to develop the second phase of what is already a densely populated commercial area in Damansara Utama popularly known as Damansara Uptown.
The company plans to build several blocks of offices and serviced apartments on 12 acres. That site is currently being used as a car park.
Damansara Uptown has a working population of about 30,000. Once the 12-acre commercial project is completed, the number will swell by 20,000 to 50,000.
Over in Kuala Lumpur, the Low Yat group is lobbying for the line to be located close to its commercial properties in downtown shopping area Bukit Bintang, in the heart of the Golden Triangle of Kuala Lumpur.
But not all business communities share a common stance. Some fear commuters would use existing parking space at commercial and shopping complexes for using the MRT instead of going shopping.
See Hoy Chan Holdings would like to get in touch with resident associations in the PJ North area to lobby for the line to go underground from Kota Damansara to Bandar Utama station.
“The station can be located below Central Park in Bandar Utama if the line is constructed underground. That location can be turned into a transport hub to serve the vicinity,” said See Hoy Chan Holdings director Datuk Teo Chiang Kok.
“Most of the lines and stations in countries with MRT are located underground. The communities in Kota Damansara, along Persiaran Surian, Bandar Utama and neighbouring residential areas are already there. To build elevated lines over what is already a densely populated area would bring about negative impact on the entire area,” he said.
At the same dialogue, Sunway Damansara resident association representative Ngian Siew Siong appealed to Land Public Transport Commission (LPTC) to have the line go underground in the Kota Damansara area. LPTC is planning for a station to be located at Dataran Sunway, a highly congested area during peak hours. Ngian is also Sunway City Bhd managing director (property development).
Contrary to LPTC's views that the MRT system will boost property values, Ngian said that “the visual impact and the noise level over Persiaran Surian and the vicinity will affect property value there.”
“The MRT line is massive and noisy.”
“The various communities are already in existent. Where will the park and ride facilities be located? Do not look at just the alignment, consider having the line underground and having integrated connectivity,” Ngian said. Under the proposed Sg Buloh-Kajang line, 20% of the 9.5km will be underground.
LPTC CEO Mohd Nur Ismal Kamal said the cost would be five to 10 times higher on a per km basis if the line were to go underground, depending on geological conditions.
See Hoy Chan's Teo Chiang Kok said the area comprised laterite and building an underground line will only cost three to four times more.
Earlier, explaining the Government's rationale to build the system, LPTC general manager Amiruddin Maaris said the MRT would have 50% more carrying capacity than the LRT line and will also be 50% wider. One car train carrying capacity is equivalent to three buses, or that of 177 cars.
“It will ease congestion,” he said.
The MRT system is expected to create 130,000 jobs and bring about a huge multiplier effect from its construction and operation. But the vision to bring out the flavour of KL metropolis, which to many, remains dormant because of the lack of public transport and connectivity, Amiruddin said.
Although tendering is expected to begin in April, the alignment can still be tweaked to accommodate the views of the public.
“This is just the proposed line. We will have other sessions to hear the public's views,” said Mohd Nur.
Said a public transport specialist: “Let us learn from the mistakes of the Light Rail Transit and the Star line.”