Julaihi showing the artistic impression of Batang Igan Bridge. Photo: Ghazali Bujang

BATANG IGAN BRIDGE

BY TANIA LAM & NOOR SYAHHIRA HADY

KUCHING: The Batang Igan Bridge is a vital component that will complete the set of bridges along Sarawak’s coastal road which will improve land transportation aimed at boosting the socio-economic growth of the state’s coastal areas.

The Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) state government has taken over the funding and construction of the bridge. Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg officiated at the bridge’s earth-breaking ceremony today.

The completion of this bridge will put an end to the need for ferry services on rivers along the route.

In an exclusive interview with New Sarawak Tribune, Assistant Minister of Infrastructure and Ports Development Datuk Julaihi Narawi provided some insight into the project.

New Sarawak Tribune: Can you elaborate on the bridge?

Julaihi: The Batang Igan Bridge is one of three bridges located in the Mukah Division.

Aside from this bridge, we also have the Muara Lassa Bridge and Batang Paloh Bridge. We just recently held the earth-breaking ceremony for the Batang Paloh Bridge whereas the Muara Lassa Bridge’s earth-breaking ceremony was held last year.

The bridge is 1.6km long. It is a balanced cantilever bridge with an iconic cable-stayed design. It has a vertical clearance with a proposed height of 26m, which will allow a more comfortable leeway for ships using the river route in the area.

Aside from the bridge length of 1.6km as mentioned, we will also construct approach roads leading up to the bridge.

These are in both directions — one is from the direction of Oya, Igan with a length of 1.4km and the other is on the Matu, Daro side which will be 700m long. We need to build these two approach roads to provide suitable routes leading towards the bridge.

The bridge is a single carriageway with two lanes. As for its type, it is all Public Works Department (JKR) Standard R5.

Could you tell us a bit about this bridge’s background and why it was delayed for so long?

Interview session with Assistant Minister of Infrastructure and Ports Development Datuk Julaihi Narawi. Photo: Ghazali Bujang

The Batang Igan Bridge is one of the three bridges that should have been funded by the federal government. Both the Batang Igan Bridge and the Batang Rambungan Bridge should have been 100 percent funded by the federal government, while the Batang Lupar Bridge was agreed to be funded on a 50-50 percent basis between the federal and state governments.

However, when Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over the federal government, three of the bridges were cancelled.

Nevertheless, the Sarawak government has much care and concern for the people. The state government led by our chief minister understood that the Batang Igan Bridge, Batang Rambungan Bridge, and Batang Lupar Bridge are among the highly strategic bridges which needed to be constructed along the coastal road.

With that, the Sarawak GPS government fully took over the implementation of these three bridges which should have been funded by the federal government, aside from the other bridges which the state government has placed under its budget from the early stages.

As you well know, many more bridges will be constructed by the state government along the coastal road – funded by the Sarawak government itself.

The people of Sarawak are indeed fortunate, for if we were to depend on 100 percent on funding from the federal government, perhaps this bridge will be delayed even further.

We can see the determination and willingness of the Sarawak GPS government in ensuring that its rural development agenda is expedited.

The construction of bridges along the coastal road will complete the route and be a game-changer in the future. It will bring significant changes to the socio-economic landscape of the rural communities, especially in the state’s coastal areas.

What is the cost of the Batang Igan Bridge?

The cost is estimated to be about RM300 million. It is scheduled to be completed within 48 months or four years. So we hope that the contractor chosen to build this bridge will adhere to the set schedule.

Going by the time frame we have set, the project was supposed to begin on July 24, meaning that the contract was awarded on July 24. It is estimated to be completed by January 23, 2024.

What is the impact of Batang Igan Bridge on residents of the surrounding areas?

All three bridges – Batang Igan Bridge, Muara Lassa Bridge and Batang Paloh Bridge – will have a direct impact on Mukah Division. As for Batang Igan Bridge itself, it will positively affect particularly the areas around Pulau Bruit, Daro, Matu, Igan, Dalat, and Mukah.

As a whole, Mukah Division currently has a population of about 110,000. They will benefit from the project, not to mention the people living in Sarawak’s northern, central, and southern regions who will also use the coastal road.

This means that the Batang Igan Bridge is one of the strategic bridges that we must build.

One of the main objectives of the Sarawak government is to replace all ferry services along the coastal road by building these bridges. When the bridges we have planned are built and completed along the coastal road, ferry services will not be provided anymore. The ferry services will be subsidised by the state government.

Currently, the ferry fee is only RM1 per vehicle. Just imagine that the state government spends about RM50 million annually to finance the ferry services. It cannot depend solely on the RM1 fee imposed per vehicle.

With the construction of the Batang Igan Bridge, Muara Lassa Bridge, and Batang Paloh Bridge, will travel times be greatly shortened?

It will be much shorter. The travel time from Sibu to Mukah will be shortened to two and a half hours. If the route has bridges, people will not have to queue up for a long time, waiting for their turn to use the ferry to cross the rivers.

The distance from bank to bank is quite wide – the bank to bank distance for Muara Lassa is 2.4km, whereas it is 1.7km for Batang Paloh and 1.6km for Batang Igan.

Observing the ferry services there, it can be seen that not only regular vehicles but also heavy vehicles, especially oil tankers coming from oil palm plantations in the surrounding areas, are queuing up for their turn on the ferry.

So this indicates that the bridges are much needed and their construction must be expedited.

Will this bridge complete the coastal road?

If the Batang Igan Bridge is built as well, that means the set of bridges along the coastal road is complete.

This is because we have the completed Batang Sadong Bridge and Batang Samarahan Bridge.

In addition, upcoming bridges include the Batang Rambungan Bridge, Batang Lupar Bridge, Batang Saribas Bridge, Sungai Krian Bridge, Batang Rajang Bridge, Batang Limbang Bridge, Batang Paloh Bridge, Muara Lassa Bridge, and the Batang Igan Bridge.

Also, if we head to Bintulu, we will pass through the Serupai Bridge and Kuala Tatau before we arrive in Bintulu, where we can see the construction of the bridge at Kuala Kemena from Jepak to Bintulu.

We also have plans to build another bridge crossing Sungai Sarawak to resolve the issue of traffic jams from Samarahan to Kuching. We have already identified the location for this bridge and it is not far from the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK).

Thus, the construction of these bridges along the entire route will complete the coastal road network. It is a complete package.

Apart from that, we also have to build the missing links – meaning if there are no roads in the area, we have to build roads to connect the bridges.

All this means is that the coastal road will be such an important route in the future, aside from the Pan Borneo Highway.

The Mukah Division is a part of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) region, where there is also the Halal Hub area in Tanjung Manis. This means that it will bring a significant impact on the development of the Halal Hub in Tanjung Manis.

Recently during the earth-breaking ceremony at Batang Paloh Bridge, our chief minister also mentioned that the shipping industry in Tanjung Manis will take off. This will be a catalyst for development in the Rajang Valley area. This is a real game-changer for the future.

Rural development is the agenda of the GPS government led by Abang Johari and partners in the Sarawak GPS government. This is a very important agenda as we want to balance rural development with that in the urban areas.