Although the fate of the High Speed Rail between Singapore and Malaysia appears to be up in the air, some of our neighbours to the North still want to build closer ties.
On Thursday, Aug. 30, Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) Osman Sapian of Johor said he "planned" to build a third bridge connecting Singapore and Malaysia, after the Causeway and the Tuas Second Link.
"If everything goes as planned, we could see the bridge taking place within the next three to four years.
We need to get approval from the Federal Government on the project, and we will also talk with Singapore on the third link bridge."
According to the Star Online, Osman said this hypothetical third bridge will have one end in Sungai Rengit, Pengerang in the Kota Tinggi District of Southeastern Johor.
The other? Pulau Ubin.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also reportedly confirmed the talk about the third bridge. Speaking to local media on the same day, he said:
"There are some planning."
Potential bridge looks awkward
Let's take a look at where Sungai Rengit is on the map:
And if you zoom out:
Do you see a potential problem?
We can imagine two or three chief routes — one being the straightforward overland/some patches of sea route (assuming somehow Singapore will allow Malaysia to build its bridge through, under, or really close to Pulau Tekong), and the other being an entirely undersea route (through the waters...between Changi and Tekong).
There are apparently no actual details on what route this bridge is supposed to take, but we imagine any potential journey to Pulau Ubin from Sungei Rengit to look awkward, to say the least.
And as we mentioned earlier, there is the small matter of Pulau Tekong in the way, home to a Singapore Armed Forces training camp and the Basic Military Training Centre.
Royal approval required
Here's another small point: any large-scale construction project in Johor would also likely require approval from the Sultan.
He has been known to object to complicated bridge designs in favour of a more straightforward approach.
An undersea tunnel from Ubin to Singapore?
Osman reportedly says this route is suitable as the bridge would be "shorter", at three kilometres.
We're not sure what he's comparing that distance to, because the Causeway is about 1km in length while the Tuas Second Link is nearly 2km.
Here's another detail Osman reportedly provided: an "undersea tunnel" will be built to connect motorists from Pulau Ubin to the Singapore mainland.
The report did not specify who would pay for this undersea tunnel either, but just as a guideline, our Marina Coastal Expressway's 420m underground section contributed to a total of more than S$4 billion spent on its construction. More info in this story:
Possible political reasons for Pengerang location
If you look at the map, the most logical location potential bridge to Pulau Ubin from Malaysia is quite plainly not Pengerang.
Instead, a place like Kampung Kabong in Pasir Gudang, Johor, looks far more direct:
So, why not there?
Osman reportedly said such a large infrastructure project would boost economic development in Pengerang. He specifically added:
"We want to spread development to other parts of Johor and not only within Iskandar Malaysia."
Pasir Gudang happens to be part of the Iskandar Malaysia development region in Johor (see the area just above Ubin is all yellow?):
And sure enough, local reports have announced that a hefty RM262 billion (S$87.3 billion) has been invested in the project in total, up to March this year.
So perhaps this talk of a bridge might also be intended to score political points with the voters of Southeast Johor, who might be feeling a little left out after seeing the economic development in Southern Johor.
Singapore has *still* not heard officially from Malaysia
On Singapore's part, Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee publicly said on Friday, Aug. 31, that Singapore has not received Malaysia's proposals for a third bridge, much less any details about when it can happen, where it'll pass through, who will be paying for it or how this can work.
You can read his Facebook post below:
Something tells us it won't take long to point out the impracticalities of this "three to four years" plan, even if Malaysia does get around to officially proposing this bridge to Pulau Ubin to the Singapore government.
Needless to say, provided Malaysia plans to pay for this themselves, this will inevitably pile on Malaysia's national debt, which as of May this year stood in excess of RM1 trillion (S$335 billion).
And indeed, the situation of pending projects becoming a debt burden happens to be Malaysia's chief reason for holding off the High Speed Rail between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore (which we're mentioning because it's supposed to provide for a JB stop) in the first place.
Which reminds us, speaking of which, in case you didn't hear, our two respective transport ministers did eventually meet for a chat this week in Singapore about that:
So can this happen? We admit we don't know. But we certainly aren't sure it can happen "as planned".
Top image adapted from Osman Sapian's Facebook page and Google Maps.