Let me talk about that first. No doubt, the laying of the double rail tracks from Ipoh to Butterworth and thence to Padang Besar can only be good for the country, and especially for Penang's tourism, but construction work always take a long time to complete. Moreover, when it is done close to existing infrastructures, the end result is always road narrowing and traffic congestion.
I grumbled so much that people asked me why don't I seek alternative routes out from the town? But are there good alternative routes to use, I asked them back. Consider this:
- If I go through Jalan Rozhan, I'll run smack into the double tracking work at the end of Jalan Permatang Tinggi;
- If I go through Taman Desa Palma and turn into Jalan Bukit Minyak, there is also a railway crossing there to consider;
- If I use Jalan Maju, there is a huge flyover being built near the Jalan Song Ban Kheng/Jalan Maju traffic lights;
- If I try to use the narrow Jalan Kampung Besar way, I will end up at the Berapit railway crossing and yes, the double tracking work is there too;
- If I go through Jalan Sungai Rambai, there is a double whammy as this road goes through two railway crossings;
- If I decide to go right through the town, I will join the traffic convergence at Kulim Road, Aston Road and Jalan Arumugam Pillai.
So the remaining alternatives are to go eastwards to Kulim and then get onto the Kulim-Butterworth highway or travel along one of the roads to Simpang Ampat or Valdor. But adding needless kilometres to my travel plans means that it is madness. What to do? Join the crowd at one of the congested exit points in the town, lah.
Of course, the flyover that connects Jalan Maju to Jalan Song Ban Kheng is the most welcome project of the double tracking expansion work in Bukit Mertajam presently. I would surmise that it may still take about one more year to complete but at least, I can see that it is work in progress and there is activity. I just can't wait to zoom across the flyover and miss the blasted traffic lights below.
But after having gotten across to Jalan Song Ban Kheng, another traffic congestion looms. This road was originally built as a dual carriageway to connect Jalan Maju to Jalan Kebun Sireh. Somewhere in the middle stretch, the road joins up to the Jalan Tembikai/Jalan Binjai junctions. When the road was first completed about five or six years ago, it was such a breeze to drive through. It's not so convenient anymore as traffic usage has built up tremendously.
Both sides of the road used to be empty land but now, there are all sorts of different development everywhere. As part of their projects, the developers were required to expand their stretch of Jalan Song Ban Kheng into four lanes. This, they have done. Unfortunately, the developments are not side-by-side to one another and accordingly, this road has become infamous for alternating between two lanes and four lanes at ridiculously short stretches. I'd be driving comfortably along a four-lane road and suddenly, it bottlenecks into two lanes. After a short stretch, it becomes four lanes again, and then two lanes, and then four lanes. And there are two main bridges along this road. Nobody's going to develop the land around the bridges and so, they will be permanent two-lane structures. Jalan Song Ban Kheng is the joke of BM Town.
So that is why I am glad that the Penang government has finally seen the point and taken upon itself to widen the whole stretch of this road - from the end of the flyover to Jalan Kebun Sireh - to a four-lane carriageway. Cost to the government is expected to be RM10 million with RM4.5 million to be spent on rebuilding the two bridges.
I hear this project may take off in the middle of the year and take about three years to complete. It could be sooner but there are earthworks to be done to strengthen the ground and provide a good drainage system. No matter, as long as the expansion is done, I shall be happy. But in the meantime, I shall still have to endure the daily jams.