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The Jakarta Post
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Letter: Costly Sumatra-Java bridge

  • The Jakarta Post

| Fri, October 2 2009 | 02:23 pm

While I appreciate the thought and apparent balance in debate that Danang Parikesit has presented in his article "Is it worth connecting Sumatra and Java?" (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 29), I think his conclusion is somewhat predictable.

When considering a major risky structure like the Sumatra-Java bridge, which would consume so much attention from the government and a huge amount of capital, it is important to put it into a national context, not just local and regional one.

I ask whether Indonesia can afford to put all its eggs into the one basket on a project like this, when there are thousands of other islands presenting all manner of problems and opportunities for investment. The question must be what is the return on investment to the whole of the nation? Could there be much better returns on investment in addressing those other opportunities and issues?

Rather than invest in one single iconic structure that could be knocked down by an earthquake, accident or terrorist attack, consider the return on the same investment if it was made in the road and rail system throughout the country.

Regrettably, our record on fulfilling major transport projects like the monorail and metro train system in Jakarta has me wondering if we are being a little naive in leaping into such a hugely expensive and technologically challenging project as a bridge across the Sunda Strait.

For my money, I would be investing in a highly efficient European-style "roll on, roll off" inter-island ferry system capable of accommodating heavy road and rail freight. Rather than being a totally fixed structure, it would have the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances and service multiple ports and islands according to market demand.

Such a system would have the benefit of being able to multi-strand transport flow into multiple ports and access roads rather than funnel road systems into single bottlenecking bridge approaches that are highly vulnerable to congestion and security threats.

Also remember, with tunnels and bridges, they are of no use to anyone until the day they are completed.

A roll-on, roll-off fast ferry system can be incrementally developed and so provide incremental benefits long before a tunnel or bridge is completed. Don't get sucked into the argument of going for this mega structure on the basis of how it would make us proud as a nation.

Just remember the headaches that the channel tunnel has given Britain and France. Iconic, yes; but pride counts for nothing if it doesn't perform effectively and profitably.

If in 20 years we are forced to say "Beautiful bridge, pity about our poverty levels", then we have failed the people.

Nairdah
Sydney

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