Plans for 7-km Batam-Bintan bridge project revived

People taking the ferry at Harbour Bay terminal in Batam, Indonesia.
People taking the ferry at Harbour Bay terminal in Batam, Indonesia.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

JAKARTA - Indonesia has revived a plan to connect Batam and Bintan with a 7-km bridge as part of President Joko Widodo's plan to boost connectivity in Riau Islands province, also known as Kepri.

The project involves the construction of three links - from Batam to Pulau Tanjung Sauh, then on to Pulau Buau and finally to Bintan.

Kepri governor Nurdin Basirun told The Straits Times this week that among the companies that have submitted proposals for the project is Chinese state investment firm China Power Investment Corp.

"Of course, China Power was not the only investor interested in building this Batam-Bintan bridge; we have many other investors who submitted proposals," said Mr Nurdin.

"But we are evaluating all of them, with our main consideration being when the break-even period (for the project) will be."

The Batam-Bintan bridge was mooted by the Batam Industrial Development Authority in 2005.

A South Korean firm had expressed interest after a feasibility study was conducted in 2012, but the project did not take off and the local government has been trying to revive it ever since.

A new feasibility study is being done to evaluate the project, but Mr Nurdin stressed that the Kepri government will have to follow the lead of Jakarta. "This is a big project and I cannot decide on my own," he added. "It is a project under the BOT concept."

Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) is a form of project financing, where a company receives a concession to construct, own and operate a toll road, bridge, tunnel or other infrastructure project for a contracted period of time, before the ownership is transferred to the government.

It is not clear how much the project would cost. But past plans to call for a tender for the bridge put the cost at US$350 million (S$476 million) in 2009, according to media reports at the time.

When he was elected in 2014, President Joko, popularly known as Jokowi, had promised a strong push for infrastructure development to boost South-east Asia's largest economy as well as to improve connectivity in the country.

His government has been courting foreign investors, particularly from China and Japan, to support the energy and transport sectors.

China Railway Corp is a joint-venture partner with Indonesia in the US$6 billion Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail link, while China Power and Anhui Conch Cement are major players in other infrastructure projects.

Mr Nurdin said he has told the President there must be strong political support for the bridge before it can be realised.

The governor believes that connecting the two islands by road will have a significant "multiplier effect" for his province, which is home to Batam, Bintan and Karimun, a free-trade zone collectively known among businessmen in Indonesia and Singapore as BBK.

"The Batam-Bintan bridge will certainly have a positive impact... and it will spur economic growth," said Mr Nurdin, adding that increased connectivity would be good for tourism as well.

Batam is home to about 1.2 million people with many working in heavy industries.

Its lower costs have attracted many Singapore firms and Mr Nurdin said he would be pleased to have investors from Singapore playing a part in the Batam-Bintan bridge.

Bintan's population is about 400,000.

"If Singapore is interested it is even better, because the country is closer to the project," he added.

Commenting on Indonesia and Singapore marking 50 years of bilateral relations next month, Mr Nurdin said: "Our friendship has reached 50 years. We hope for even stronger friendship going forward.

"If Singapore progresses, we would also progress with them… We don't see them as a competitor."