Thursday, February 19, 2009

Toppled crane on Penang Bridge causes ugly snarl

A crane used for the Penang Bridge widening project toppled over near the mid-span of the bridge this morning causing a massive traffic jam which infuriated thousands of motorists. The traffic chaos along the Jelutong Expressway on the island and Bayan Lepas coastal Road, which started from the morning rush hour, only cleared about noon.

A Penang Bridge spokesman said the 30-tonne hydraulic crane, which was being used on the third lane of the bridge, toppled over at KM3.6 of the mainland bound lane about 3.15am.

The accident is said to have happened after a cable connected to the crane became entangled with a bridge pile structure as it was being used to lift a demolished parapet.

Northeast district police chief Assistant Commissioner Azam Abdul Hamid said traffic police tried to disperse traffic on the bridge by diverting mainland bound motorists to the opposite lane. The contra flow was activated at 9.35am to ease congestion.

The partial closure of the bridge caused a traffic jam over a radius of 10 kilometres causing motorists to jam up the ferry terminals to cross the channel.
Road users were caught in a bumper-to-bumper situation on various parts of the island, and also on the mainland, particularly along Jalan Chain Ferry and Jalan Bagan Luar.

Nur Astikah Ismail, a civil servant was late for work from Butterworth to Komtar due to the massive traffic gridlock. "I was stuck in the jam at the ferry terminal from 7am and only reached office at 11am," she said.

The mainland bound traffic on the bridge was later closed temporarily to facilitate the removal of the crane.

Traffic flow returned to normal after the crane was removed around noon.

In a statement, Penang Bridge Sdn Bhd (PBSB) said main contractor UEM Construction Sdn Bhd (UEMC) had required two units of cranes to lift the toppled crane, but one of the cranes broke down before it reached the scene, resulting in the delay while they waited for the backup crane to arrive.

It also said all necessary action was taken to manage the traffic congestion, including continuous traffic updates via the main radio stations, while Variable Message Signs (VMS) and the Online Traffic Information Management (OTIM) alert were posted to users to notify them of the traffic updates.

Meanwhile, the state government expressed its outrage over the inefficiency of the Malaysian Highway Authority (LLM), PBSB and UEMC to clear the toppled crane in the shortest possible time.

State Public Works, Utilities and Transportation Committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said many factory employees and businessmen were caught in the massive jam. He was also one of those affected.

"We are very dissatisfied and angry over the attitude of those concerned who did not do the necessary clean-up work in the shortest possible time.

"They had about three-and-a-half hours before the peak hour started, and yet they could not clear the mess in time," Lim said, adding that they took eight hours to clear it.

"There could have been a lack of coordination among the three, resulting in the delay. What the state government can do now is basically state our stand to the Works Ministry, and ask them to take the necessary steps to prevent this from happening again," he said.

To a suggestion that more ferries be added to the current six in full operation, Lim said this was not possible as, in order to get the seventh ferry up and running, about 100 crew members would have to be recruited.

"These range from captains to the traffic controllers right down to the engine runner. The ferry operators cannot do this as they are running up tens of millions of ringgit in losses every year," he said.

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