How to solve massive jams on Penang Bridge

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) is extremely disappointed at the negligence which caused the traffic chaos at the Penang Bridge in February this year.

The accident which involved a crane tipping over while lifting a demolished retaining wall on the bridge caused a massive traffic jam with thousands of motorists being stranded in their vehicles for up to eight hours.

The accident caused one of the two lanes of the bridge to be blocked which in turn gave rise to massive traffic congestion at entry points to the bridge at Gelugor, Bayan Lepas and the Jelutong Expressway. Traffic became more congested when one of the two cranes sent to assist in resolving the accident broke down.

This incident clearly indicates a lack of foresight in implementing a contingency plan on the part of an unprepared Penang Bridge Sendirian Berhad (PBSB). Sadly, traffic jams, especially ones caused by accidents are nothing new to Penang Bridge users as they are the ones who pay tolls and get stranded for hours at a time whenever there’s an accident.

In this latest incident, the accident involving the crane occurred at 3.00 am. This means that the authorities had ample time to alert the public of the accident and close the affected lane so as not to allow a buildup of traffic leading to the accident site. This early warning would have allowed motorists to plan their journeys in advance to avoid getting caught in the ensuing congestion. Unfortunately, no such warning was given.

If preemptive action was efficiently undertaken, Penang Port Sdn. Bhd. could also have been notified in time for them to plan and implement a short term contingency plan to accommodate an increase in vehicles for their ferry’s to ship. This would undoubtedly help in easing the traffic congestion in Penang.

It was further disastrous that one of the two cranes sent to assist the toppled crane broke down before it reached the site and caused a further delay. It is incomprehensible that UEM Construction (UEMC), with almost two decades of experience in the industry and a long list of accomplishments like the North South Expressway & North South Expressway Central Link, LRT 2 For Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-Singapore Second Crossing and many more could have allowed such an untoward but essentially avoidable incident to occur. One wonders what level of standards UEMC adheres to. Despite being awarded the Occupational Health and Safety Management System Certificate (OHSAS 18001:1999) UEMC seems to employ crane drivers who operate cranes that are a potential threat to their operators and other workers.

CAP is also disappointed that the Variable Message Signboards (VMS) around Penang did not inform the public of the traffic situation at the bridge during the incident. This would have been a substantial help to motorists in planning their journey’s to avoid the congestion in and around the bridge.

Given the present state of affairs, it is highly likely that an incident such as this will reoccur. PBSB needs to come to its senses and realize that apart from collecting bridge tolls, it has a responsibility to ensure a hassle-free public service to its clients. As it is, PBSB does not seem to have any contingency plan in times of crisis. Its efforts to resolve the accident were haphazard to say the least and almost no initiative was applied to diverting traffic away from the bridge, hours after the accident occurred.

It is time UEM Builders, being the parent company for both UEMC and PBSB takes responsibility for its subsidiary’s dismal performance and ensures that they get their act together and take a proactive stance in preparing for effective and efficient crisis management for the sake of its clientele and for its own credibility.