Timothy Tye
Penang Bridge (E36)

Penang BridgePenang Bridge (15 July, 2006)

B. Melayu

The Penang Bridge (E36) is the second longest bridge in Malaysia. It was the longest until the completion of the Sultan Abdul Hamid Mu'adzam Shah Bridge, also in Penang. The Penang Bridge is a dual-carriageway toll bridge that connects Gelugor on Penang Island with Prai in Seberang Perai on the mainland of Malaysia. The Penang Bridge is also linked to the North-South Expressway in Prai and the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway in Penang. It carries the Malaysian expressway route number of E36.

The Penang Bridge was officially opened to traffic on September 14 1985. With a total length of 13.5 km, the Penang Bridge is one of the longest bridges in the world as well as a national landmark. The Penang Bridge was expanded from 4 lanes to 6 lanes to accommodate the increased traffic while a second link between Penang Island and the mainland has been approved under the 9th Malaysia Plan.

The widening work project is expected to cost RM585mil and was completed in June 2008. The widened brige will have a new lane on each side comprising a 2m-wide lane for motorcycles and a 3.5m-wide lane for other vehicles. The number of toll booths will also be increased from 13 to 25.

It took 40 years for the dream of building a bridge to link Penang Island to the mainland to become a reality. Until then, the Penang Ferry was the only option to cross the Penang Channel. Even as early as 1940's, there was traffic congestion on the old ferry terminal.

According to the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, former Chief Minister of Penang, "The authorities considered expanding the ferry service. They also considered having another ferry terminal at another point, or building an island-mainland linkage either with a bridge or a tunnel. As far as I remember, ever since I have been in public life, the question of a linkage with the mainland had been mooted and there were proponents for the bridge, for the tunnel and for another ferry terminal.

"From the late 1950s onwards, there were more people in favour of the bridge."

Penang BridgeOne of the massive pillars at the midspan of Penang Bridge (18 April, 2004)

Penang BridgeSightseeing the Penang Bridge (15 July, 2006)

Midspan of Penang BridgeMidspan of Penang Bridge (15 July, 2006)

Penang BridgePenang Bridge (15 July, 2006)

Midspan of Penang BridgeMidspan of Penang Bridge (15 July, 2006)

In the late 1960s, the bridge concept was given added impetus because there was a feeling that Seberang Prai, the mainland part of Penang State, was being neglected in terms of development. When the Gerakan victory swept Tun Dr Lim into power in 1969, the bridge project was pushed ahead because it was in line with the party's election manifesto. However, nothing materialised, and the bridge project became a standing joke at every general election.

It was another decade before any concrete step towards constructing the bridge was to take form. As the eighties roll in, the government of Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamed pushed forward the project. On April 10, 1981, then Utilities Minister Datuk S. Samy Velu announced that the Government was considering two different designs for the bridge - the steel-tied arch in the style of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the cable-stayed concrete girder of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.

The decision to go with the latter design was announce on 23 July 1981. At that time, the price tag for the bridge was $629 million (yes, at that time, we were still using the $ sign instead of RM). Two months later, the price has been revised upwards to $744 million. It was projected that 50,000 people will use the bridge every day, or about 20 million a year. In April 1982, Dr Mahathir sank the first pile and the dream got closer to coming true.

The Penang Bridge was designed by Tan Sri Datuk Professor Ir. Chin Fung Kee, an authority in geotechnical engineering. Born in Nibong Tebal in southern Penang, Chin rose to become the acting Vice Chancellor of University of Malaya. Unfortunately, he died of cancer a year before the Penang Bridge was opened to traffic.

Penang Bridge
Members from AsiaExplorers and Penang Heritage Trust on a trip to view the Penang Bridge (18 April, 2004)

Between 1981 and 1985, the people of Penang waited eagerly as the bridge took shape over the horizon. Finally on April 13, 1985, Penang island ceased being an island when it was physically linked to the mainland for the first time with the laying of the final slab of the bridge. By the time the finishing touches were put in place, around mid August, 1985, the Federal Government has spent $850 million on the bridge, of which $525 million was for the bridge itself, $180 million for the interchanges on the Prai side, and $28.7 million for land reclamation.

The bridge has an overall length of 13.5km (8.4 miles), with 8.4km over water. The four towers in mid span his 101.5 metres tall, and the bridge is 33 metres above water. The total length of piling for the bridge is 648km, equal to the distance from Butterworth to Johor Bahru. The bridge can withstand earthquake up to 7.5 on the Richter scale.

Penang BridgeView from under the Penang Bridge (18 April, 2004)

Penang Bridge
View of the roadway from under the Penang Bridge (18 April, 2004)

More than 2300 people were involved in the construction, including about 800 South Koreans from the main contractor, Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co. Ltd. Twenty workers died in the construction, with the worst tragedy occuring on October 20, 1984 when five were killed when a crossbeam collapsed.

On Saturday, August 3, 1985, Dr Mahathir drove across the bridge in a red Proton Saga, bringing two national dreams to reality. By his side was Datin Seri Dr Siti Hasmah and in the back seat were Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, then Works Minister Datuk S. Samy Vellu and Proton Chairman Tan Sri Jamil Jan.

The Penang Bridge maintenance staircaseThe Penang Bridge maintenance staircase (18 April, 2004)

The Penang Bridge maintenance staircaseAnother view of the maintenance staircase (18 April, 2004)

Finally, on Sunday, September 15, 1985, the Yang di-Pertua Negeri, Tun Dr Awang Hassan, opened the bridge to the public and became its first user.

Some details about the bridge

  • Overall length: 13.5km or 8.4 miles, of which 8.4km is over the South Channel.
  • Length of the Penang Island approach: 1.5km
  • Length of the Prai approach: 3.6km
  • Height of the four main towers above water: 101.5m
  • Maximum height of bridge above water at main span: 33m
  • Length of main span: 225m
  • Length of end span: 107.5m
  • Length of other spans: 40m
  • Speed limit on the bridge: 80kph
Today 70,000 people use the Penang Bridge daily, with the number exceeding its full capacity of 100,000 on some days. Already plans are afoot to construct a Second Link, from Batu Maung on Penang Island to Batu Kawan on the Prai side. The project, which will be even longer than the present bridge, is expected to commence in 2006, under the 9th Malaysia Plan, and construction is expected to take five years. Until then, the Penang Bridge will continue to be the beloved longest link in Malaysia.

Penang BridgeSightseeing the Penang Bridge by boat (15 July, 2006)

The Penang Bridge on Google Street View

List of Bridges in Penang and Bridges in Malaysia

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