Bukit Brown road project 'can't wait'

ST News
Nov 20, 2011

Bukit Brown road project 'can't wait'
LTA says it is needed to ease Lornie Road traffic, though estate will be built only later

By Christopher Tan

THE controversial four-lane dual carriageway through Bukit Brown cemetery is slated to be one of two crucial backbones of a road network that will serve the residential estate to be developed there.

Although this future estate that spans more than 200ha - bigger than Serangoon and slated to have a mix of private and public housing - will be developed only in 30 to 40 years, the new road is necessary today to bring relief to the increasingly congested Lornie Road.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said Lornie Road, which forms an outer ring road system designed to allow traffic to bypass the Central Business District, already sees 6,000 to 7,000 vehicles an hour during peak periods.

That is equivalent to the peak load on expressways. And the LTA sees demand rising by 20 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020.

So, instead of building alternative roads that may spare Bukit Brown in the short term, the LTA decided to kill two birds with one stone - by building a road through Bukit Brown that will be an arterial carriageway to be joined by smaller roads in the future estate.

'We would not have to waste money building one road now to take some load off Lornie, and then another in 30 years' time when Bukit Brown is developed,' said LTA group director of engineering Paul Fok.

Also, the LTA said, alternatives such as building a viaduct or an underground road were found to be unfeasible, and might even be more detrimental to the environment.

The LTA held a joint briefing with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) last Friday to explain why the four-lane dual carriageway had to be built now, and why it will cut through Bukit Brown.

It was the first time the two agencies had come out together to elaborate on the plan which has caused unhappiness among conservationists, the Singapore Heritage Society and ordinary citizens.

Opponents wanted the site preserved as it is the resting place of many early migrants, including prominent ones. They added that the site is also an important green lung and home to several species of birds and plants.

Strangely, the URA said, no one raised a ruckus when plans highlighting the area's intended future use were displayed for feedback.

URA deputy director Zulkiflee Mohd Zaki said: 'We showed it in the 1991 and 2001 Concept Plans, and it was also in the 2008 Master Plan.'

No one came forward to object, he said.

It was only after the URA reaffirmed its development plans to the media in May that the protests began. The outcry intensified when the LTA said in September that a new road will run through the cemetery.

The LTA has reiterated that the road would affect only 5 per cent - or about 5,000 - of the 100,000 graves there. The remainder will go only in 30 to 40 years, with redevelopment of the area.

Asked why the LTA could not wait until then to build the new road, the authority said it could not allow the congestion to worsen further. It said it has been getting an average of 10 complaints a month from motorists about the Lornie Road jam in recent years.

'Cars are still an important part of the land transport system,' said LTA deputy chief executive Lim Bok Ngam. 'It is not possible for us to rely completely on public transport.'

Mr Fok added that it would not be right to erect Electronic Road Pricing gantries there because the outer ring road is an alternative to the priced expressways.

Automobile Association of Singapore chief executive Lee Wai Mun said that although there is a need to have new infrastructure from time to time, existing roads can be improved 'to increase mobility and to have better circulation'.

He said it was also vital for road usage to be better spread out. 'We should do more to stagger working times. It calls for a mindset change,' he said.

Businessman Baldev Singh, 30, whose daily commutes are affected by the Lornie Road jam, said: 'Heritage value is important. But it is important to be practical as well. It would be good to strike a balance.'