Forget the bridge, look at potential of water under it

The crooked bridge project has all the makings of a vindictive white elephant, given Malaysia's fiscal challenges, the narrowing of the Johor Strait since it was mooted more than 20 years ago, and its repercussions on Malaysia-Singapore ties (Crooked bridge plan may be revived: Johor chief minister; Oct 17).

If its main purpose is for ships to pass through on the Malaysian side of the waterway, as widely speculated, why are Johor-based entities planning to reclaim more land and artificial islands for waterfront housing that will hinder traffic flow, especially when land is abundant in Johor and Malaysia?

Would the values of these properties not erode with the repercussions from maritime activities at such close quarters every day, including from Singapore's upcoming Tuas port?

Besides, transforming the narrowing Johor Strait into a shipping route is not something that Malaysia can do unilaterally. Part of it is Singapore territory, and both sides must cooperate to invest in the necessary infrastructure.

Is this worth our while from the broad perspective of cost and benefit?

Above all, the launch of a crooked bridge project without an accompanying alternative during its construction will worsen cross-border road traffic congestion.

Why waste money building it, or even a third bridge as a potential backup, when existing links are still less than efficient in facilitating traffic flow between both sides?

Worse, when the project will also likely disrupt the supply of water via the pipes laid on the causeway, and call into question the 1962 water agreement between Malaysia and Singapore.

Instead of inadvertently straining ties between two close neighbours, we should all heed Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's call at the recent Asean meeting in Bali to tap the region's wealth of natural resources.

There is one most underrated resource right at our respective doorsteps that will become increasingly precious in years to come amid climate change - water.

The Johor Strait has great potential to be a "natural" reservoir of water, goodwill, trust and peace, linking both countries with a shared heritage.

It can quench the thirst of humans, as well as act as a hydrokinetic driver for a green and blue corridor of industries and lifestyles along both sides of the strait.

I urge the respective authorities on both sides of the causeway to explore its viability to benefit our peoples for generations to come.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2018, with the headline 'Forget the bridge, look at potential of water under it'. Print Edition | Subscribe