Cost of Sunda Strait bridge may balloon to US$18.87 billion

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The governors of Banten and Lampung agreed to build a bridge across the Sunda Strait to connect Merak Port in the western part of Java to Bakauheni Port in the southern part of Sumatra, Indonesia.

A memorandum of understanding was signed by Banten Governor Ratu Atut Chosiah, Lampung Governor Sjachroedin Z.P., and representatives of the consortium that will construct the bridge Wiratman Wangsadinata of Wiratman and Associates and Tomy Winata, the owner of PT Artha Graha Network.

Governor Sjachroedin said he hoped the bridge would be able to alleviate chronic traffic congestion at the Merak-Bakauheni ferry crossings.

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“The number of vehicles crossing from port to port increases daily … it’s the main cause of traffic congestions at the two ports,”” he said in his speech at the signing ceremony on the Tunas Wisesa 03 ferry near Sangiang island, which is located between Merak and Bakauheni ports.

He added the addition of ports alone would not be enough to solve the problem. Governor Ratu Atut said the agreement was a step toward conducting a pre-feasibility study this year, which is expected to be completed by 2009. It will take three more years to conduct the feasibility study before the construction process can begin in 2012. The entire project is expected be completed in 2025.

Around 20 to 30 passenger ships, most of which are more than 20-years-old, transport about 350,000 people and 25,000 vehicles between Merak and Bakauheni every day.

The suspension bridge is expected to cost around US$10 billion and will have six lanes for vehicles and two railway tracks. The bridge will be raised 70 meters above the surface of the sea and will span 30 kilometers over three small islands: Prajurit, Ular, and Sangiang.

The concept for the bridge first emerged in the 1960s, but it was dropped due to a change in political leadership. When B.J Habibie became Research and Technology Minister in the 1980s, the idea was again heard but never implemented due to the 1997 economic crisis. The plan re-emerged when engineering professor Wiratman sounded it in 1997.

Involving hydrographic, oceanographic, geologic, seismological, climatological and environmental aspects

As the bridge is located in the Sunda Strait, which is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, its construction would include four important phases involving hydrographic, oceanographic, geologic, seismological, climatological and environmental aspects. “The biggest natural challenges are earthquakes and wind speed. We will examine the maximum wind speed reaching critical points in the pre-feasibility study” an official said.

The bridge, which would stand only 50 kilometers from the active Krakatau volcano, would be constructed from flexible but strong materials to withstand earthquakes and strong winds.

The construction of the Sunda Strait bridge, which, if completed, will be the longest suspension bridge in the world, may cost as much as Rp170 trillion (US$18.87 billion), almost double the initial estimate of $11 billion, an official said.

Feasibility studies revealed the huge price tag, which, according to Syahrial Loetan, the main secretary of the National Development Planning Agency, is subject to change. The Sunda Strait bridge will connect Java and Sumatra with an approximate length of 30 kilometers, according to the planning agency.

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The bridge width will be 60 meters, with six lanes for traffic and double-track railways, based on the official website.

Gas and oil pipes, fiber-optic cables and electricity cables will be built into the length of the bridge. The planning agency said the Sunda Strait bridge is needed as the only existing transportation, ferries, can no longer support economic development in both islands.

The construction of the bridge was initiated by PT Bangungraha Sejahtera Mulia, a subsidiary of the Artha Graha Group owned by tycoon Tomy Winata. A national team led by Coordinating Economic Minister Hatta Rajasa is now responsible for preliminary studies into the bridge’s construction.The bridge is expected to take at least 10 years to build, said Banten Governor Ratu Atut Chosiyah. The planning agency expects construction to start in 2012.

Because a large amount of funds  is needed to construct the bridge, the agency has included it as part of the public-private partnership (PPP) projects in the 2010-2014 period worth $47.3 billion in total.

Hatta said he has offered construction of the bridge to Chinese investors, but as yet no decision has been announced. Syahrial is optimistic foreign investors will want to invest in this ambitious project. “Our economic growth is high compared to other countries. With stable macroeconomic conditions Indonesia can be the right place for global investors,” he said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he expects private investors to participate in the bridge construction. The government “has taken comprehensive moves to create a better investment climate,” he said, adding that Indonesia has improved infrastructure over the past five years.

Meanwhile, Indonesian environmental guru Emil Salim says the government should re-think its plan to build the massive Sunda Strait bridge, which will be one of the world’s longest bridges once the construction is accomplished.

Emil said that the government should involve earthquake experts and other related experts before deciding to commence the construction of the 29 km-long bridge that would connect the islands of Java and Sumatra through Banten and Lampung.

“Engineers are seemingly charmed with the planned Sunda Strait bridge. But, please, talk first with quake experts and others, and scrutinize the movements of tectonic plates and sea currents in the area,” Emil told a discussion on regional development planning here on Wednesday.

He said it was better to develop sea and air transports to connect the two main Indonesian islands before deciding to kick off the construction of the bridge over the busy Sunda Strait. (The Jakarta Post)

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