Green path for new Bukit Brown road

ST News
Mar 20, 2012

Green path for new Bukit Brown road
Eco-bridge will be built to reduce impact on nature and graves

By Christopher Tan

IN WHAT some observers see as a concession to various interest groups, the Government yesterday announced that one-third of a controversial new road across Bukit Brown will be a bridge up to 10m off the ground.

This is expected to cost up to three times more than a surface road, but the option will benefit fauna in the wooded area, the site of an old cemetery.

The bridge will also mean slightly fewer graves will be affected by the road works, although the Land Transport Authority (LTA) cannot pinpoint the exact number of graves saved because of this.

All in, 3,746 graves will have to be exhumed from early next year. The LTA had initially estimated 5,000 would have to go when the road project was announced last year.

Giving its finalised plans for the dual four-lane carriageway that will bypass Lornie Road, the LTA said that it decided on something 'that minimises... impact to the existing terrain and surrounding environment'.

A 600m centre portion of the 2km road will be a bridge. The LTA explained that this was because of the undulating landscape consisting of 'several hillocks... and creeks'.

It said a bridge will maintain an 'eco-linkage' under the structure, and wildlife in the area can 'continue to traverse between both sides of the road'. Existing streams will also be preserved.

Experts said, however, that the most economical and efficient method to build a road in such an environment would be to use what is known as 'cut and fill', which is basically excavating soil from hilly terrain in the area to fill up lower ground so that the entire area is flat.

Mr Rajan Krishnan, senior vice-president (Asia) of infrastructural group Parsons Brinckerhoff, said building a bridge would cost 'at least 21/2 times' more than building a surface road as it would involve piling and added structures such as piers.

Mr Joshua Ong, vice-president of engineering consultancy Jurong Consultants, said: 'A cut-and-fill method would be the cheapest and most optimal solution. An elevated road will cost two to three times more.'

Nature Society (Singapore) president Shawn Lum told The Straits Times earlier yesterday that he was 'heartened' by the news. 'No road would have been best, but if there was going to be a road, an elevated road is the better option,' he said. The option will allow free movement of small reptiles and frogs. 'Even birds will benefit, because some don't like to fly over road,' he said.

Mr Cedric Foo, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport, said the decision to build an elevated road, although costlier, 'is the right direction'.

'In the early days of our development, we focused on economic development, and conservation was a luxury we could not afford. But when a country is richer, we can accommodate some of these things,' he said. 'We can't put a dollar value to natural habitat.'

The new road will alleviate current congestion along Lornie Road during peak hours and cater to expected traffic growth. It is expected to be ready by 2016. In the longer term, the area has been earmarked for housing.

After details were announced last September, various civic society groups called for the entire area - the site of some 100,000 old graves - to be spared, citing heritage and environment reasons.

Last night, after meeting Minister of State for National Development Tan Chuan-Jin, seven groups including the Nature Society (Singapore) called for a moratorium on all works at Bukit Brown until discussions over alternatives to building a road have been exhausted. Nature Society's conservation committee vice-chairman Ho Hua Chew attended the meeting in place of Mr Lum.

The LTA yesterday said the new road is needed sooner, not later, citing a rise in traffic demand by up to 30 per cent by 2020. It added that internationally, few private graves are preserved by the state. But it acknowledged the heritage value of the place, and had together with the Urban Redevelopment Authority commissioned documentation of affected graves.