Penang Bridge – connecting the island to the mainland

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

Before 1985, transportation between the island and the mainland was solely dependent on the state-owned Penang Ferry Service that plies between Butterworth and George Town. For using the ferry services in Penang, motorists need to pay toll fare while heading to the island. There is no charge for leaving the island.

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

On 14 September 1985, commuters had an alternative option. They could reach the island or mainland via the newly launched Penang Bridge which was financed by the Federal Government at a total cost of RM800 million (excluding the cost of land acquisition).

The 13.5-kilometre Penang Bridge which stands at 8.4 km is above water and is one of the longest bridges in Asia.

An engineering wonder takes shape

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

The idea of building the Penang Bridge was initiated by the late Tun Abdul Razak, the 2nd Prime Minister of Malaysia in the 1960s. Under the 3rd Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn in the 1970s, plans for building the Bridge were drawn up. However, it was only during the 4th Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in 1982 that the construction of the bridge started. Three years and nine months later, it was completed and opened to the public.

The main contractor of the project was Hyundai Engineering and Construction. Co. Ltd from Korea with consulting engineers from Howard Needles and Tammen, Bergendoff Intl. Inc. SA/JK (SEA).

Constructed with a 6.2 km dual carriageway and 2.2 km three lanes at the main span, this Bridge became the only physical link between the Mainland of Peninsular Malaysia and Penang Island. Seen from the Penang Island interchange, the channel crossing consists of elevated bridge structures known as "Cable-Stayed Concrete Girders".

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

My sister, Lillian (top photo, centre) was the secretary to Ir Chai Yen Chong (top photo - left), the Project Director in charge of the Penang Bridge Project of the Malaysian Highway Authority. I was privileged to join them on one of their site visits to the main span via a speed boat when the bridge was still being constructed. To actually stand on the main span and see firsts hand how the engineering wonders of the bridge were at play was indeed very exciting and invigorating. Ir Chai explained that only after the piling and laying the foundation for the main structures supporting the bridge, could the roads be built. Like a fast-forward movie, the structure emerged from the sea and from there, roads spread out like wings from each structure at the same speed and met in the middle, high above the sea. Every piece of construction followed the precise calculation of the marvel of its engineering.

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

Back at Ir Chai's office, there were other proposed designs for Penang Bridge, but the one selected was the best. Its distinctive design and features saw the Penang Bridge winning awards. In 1986, it won the Grand Award in the United States of America Engineering Excellence Competition sponsored by the Council of Consulting Engineers, Washington. In 1993, it won the FIABCI Special Award (Development and Construction Phase Category) from the International Real Estate Federation of Malaysia.

Popular tourist attraction

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

Since its opening, the Penang Bridge has become an iconic part of George Town. Like the Brooklyn Bridge or the Golden Gate Bridge, Penang Bridge has contributed significantly to the rapid development of Penang both as a tourist as well as an industrial centre.

Every year the Penang Bridge Run takes place on the Penang Bridge itself and along the scenic coastal highway of George Town. This is the only time of the year when the bridge is closed for several hours in the wee hours of the morning. The biggest run in the country incorporates a marathon, a half-marathon and a quarter-marathon. The Run caters both to serious runners and amateurs.

Bridge Facilities

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

To monitor traffic flow and bridge security, the management has a 24-hour closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera installed at nine locations along the laybys and main span. The CCTV cameras were connected to the Penang Bridge Communication Centre. There were five CCTV cameras installed on the mainland and another five units on Penang Island. This was to enhance traffic monitoring surveillance and it was necessary to immediately disseminate such information of incidences or congestion to road users.

Penang Bridge was also equipped with emergency telephones (ET) which were located along with both bounds at 1.2 km intervals along the Bridge laybys and the main span.

In designing the Toll Booths facility, provision was made for 10 motorcycle lanes and 14 lanes for other classes of vehicles that give motorists a choice of two drive-through options using SmartTAG and Touch ‘n Go. Payment by cash was acceptable at all lanes excluding the SmartTAG lanes.

Penang Second Bridge

On March 31, 2006, the Malaysian Government announced a second bridge project, tentatively named the Penang Second Bridge, to be built under the Ninth Malaysia Plan. This was greatly needed to accommodate the heavy and congested traffic on the Penang Bridge especially during peak hours or when accidents happened.

Penang Bridge © Adrian Cheah

The Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge or Penang Second Bridge is a dual carriageway toll bridge connecting Batu Maung on Penang Island with Bandar Cassia (Batu Kawan) in Seberang Perai.

This 24 km-long bridge with a length over water of 16.9 km is the longest bridge in Malaysia and the longest in Southeast Asia.

China Harbour Engineering Co Ltd (CHEC), a main contractor for the second bridge was expected to start work on the second Penang bridge in November 2007 and complete the project in 2011, but the completion date was then postponed to May 2012, and later to February 2014. Construction only started in November 2008.

To reduce the cost of construction, its design was then modified to resemble the first cable-stayed Penang Bridge. The bridge was officially opened on 1 March 2014 at 20:30 MST and was named after the fourteen Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah of Kedah and was assigned with the route number E28.

Motorists who are in need of assistance can call the Penang Bridge HOTLINE at 1300-1300-13.

Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah © All rights reserved