When President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono inaugurates the 5.4-kilometer long Suramadu (Surabaya-Madura) bridge today (Wednesday), many Indonesians may sing “Dari Sabang Sampai Merauke” (From Sabang to Merauke) song, one of our national songs frequently sung by Indonesian children at elementary school. Let us forget – at least for a while – the presidential campaign, hum the popular song and imagine how we should connect our country’s 17,000 islands.
R. Suharjo, the song composer, wanted to provoke our awareness on how to unite our islands, of course not literally, but how to unite a population living in our many islands to live as one nation.
Dari Sabang sampai Merauke (From Sabang to Merauke)
Berjajar pulau pulau (Islands line up)
Sambung menyambung menjadi satu (They are connected)
Itulah Indonesia (to become Indonesia).
The Rp 4.7 trillion (US$466.6 million) Suramadu Bridge is indeed a mega project, which required about six years to construct. Our founding president Sukarno had thought about the project in 1960. His daughter, then president Megawati Soekarnoputri, officially started the project in August 2003. But the Suramadu project is only a small part of the bridging of gaps that we need to connect as many Indonesian islands as possible.
The Suramadu Bridge is not our first inter-island bridge. We already have the Barelang (Batam-Rempang-Galang) Bridge. The 2.26-kilometer bridge actually comprises six bridges which connect the islands of Batam, Tonton, Nipah, Setokok, Rempang, Galang and Galang Baru.
Providing sufficient land, sea and air transportation links is one of most pressing challenges the nation has to confront. There are islands that can be connected by bridges, but many more islands that can only be connected with the outside world by sea and air transportation. The fast growth of our airline industry proves how high the market demand is for affordable air transportation, although it is also worrying that we are still very far from being able to provide both quality and affordable air transportation for travelers.
There has long been an ambition to bring Java and Sumatra closer together by building a bridge which will connect Banten in Java and Lampung in Sumatra. People in Bali and Lombok, and people in other islands also dream of similar land bridge connections, although we never know whether or when we can achieve these ideal goals as they may be too expensive or unrealistic.
The presence of the new bridge will bring tremendous positive impacts especially for Madura. Four million people on Madura Island will enjoy the economic benefits of the new road. The movement and deployment of people will be much faster as they will no longer depend on ferry services. Of course there will also be negative impacts on social, cultural and other aspects of life.
Since the completion of the Cipularang turnpike, which makes it much easier and faster to travel to Bandung from Jakarta, Bandung’s economy has been progressively booming. But many people living along the old routes, which used to connect Jakarta and Bandung, are now suffering severe economic setbacks because many less people now need their business services.
The Suramadu Bridge is indeed a tremendous project. We want to salute and express our respect to all the parties who have made the bridge a reality. But, we also want to remind all of us that maintaining the bridge is also a huge task. We congratulate the people of East Java on the inauguration of the new bridge.