This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 16, 2011
A 5.6km-long three-lane dual carriageway running beneath some of the busiest parts of the city will form the southern stretch of the North-South Expressway.
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced yesterday (Nov 15, 2011) that the fully underground stretch will go through areas such as Novena, Kampong Java, Rochor and Ophir Road before joining the East Coast Parkway near Suntec City.
It will be completed some time in 2020 and will cut peak-hour travelling time by up to 30 per cent.
Like the northern segment announced in January, there will be land acquisitions, the LTA said at a briefing held jointly with the Singapore Land Authority and Housing Board.
All in, 24,700 sq m of private land will be acquired along the 5.6km stretch, on top of 55,800 sq m acquired for the 16km northern stretch.
They comprise two full lots - Rochor Centre and a clan building - and 21 partial lots.
The acquisition of Rochor Centre in Rochor Road is the biggest of its kind here to date, and involves 567 Housing Board flats in four blocks, 187 shops and eating houses and three communal facilities.
Over at Kampong Java, the 40-year-old Nanyang Pho Leng Building will also be acquired. It houses a clan association for descendants of immigrants from Pho Leng county in China's Guangdong Province.
The 21 private properties that will have bits of their land acquired include SLF Building, St Joseph's Institution International and the Singapore Polo Club.
Two properties on state land will also be affected - the Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home in Thomson, which dates back to the 1960s, and the Victoria Street Wholesale Centre, a favourite haunt for people wanting to stock up on festive goodies.
Tenants will have to move out when their leases expire by 2013.
Properties on 16 other pieces of state land will also be affected in some way, including five rented landed properties in Halifax Road and two blocks of walk-up apartments in Toa Payoh Rise. These buildings are currently state properties let out for residential use and the lease will be allowed to run out.
Transport researcher Lee Der Horng of the National University of Singapore said highway construction abroad which cut through communities can cause "a lot of hassle" for governments. This is especially so in bigger countries, where there are often alternative routes.
"In Singapore, our situation is different," he said. "Land is limited. So planners face a dilemma here."
Rochor Centre residents will be paid prevailing market rates for their flats. They will also have the option to move to new HDB flats to be built in Kallang, next to the river and near the Kallang MRT station.
These displaced owners get to buy the new flats - which will be up in mid-2016 - at subsidised prices frozen at today's rates, said the HDB. On top of that, they get a 20 per cent discount.
Displaced Rochor Centre shop tenants will also be compensated, as long as they are Singaporeans who secured the premises before March 4, 1999, or took over from another tenant before June 1, 1999.
If they are small and medium-sized enterprises continuing their businesses in a new location, they will get an extra $30,000 in relocation help. They will also get a 10 per cent discount on HDB rental shops.
Advance work for the expressway, which includes detailed engineering studies, will start from 2013. Major construction of the entire 21.5km stretch - which runs almost parallel to the Central Expressway - will start in phases from 2015.
It will serve the northern towns, which have far outgrown the capacity of the 20-year-old Central Expressway.
The new expressway, the 11th in Singapore, will have 16 entry ramps and 17 exit ramps, plus a number of slip roads. It is estimated to cost $7 billion to $8 billion, although LTA chief executive Chew Hock Yong said the eventual cost might be higher.
Unlike the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway which opened in two phases, Mr Chew said the new expressway will open in one go. Opening in stages, he said, could have adverse impact on traffic flow along the corridor.
The LTA said that when the highway is in operation, it will shave up to 30 per cent off peak-hour travelling time.
For instance, a 30- to 35-minute journey between Yishun and the city will be completed in 20 to 30 minutes. A similar trip to and from Bishan will take 10 to 15 minutes, down from 15 to 20 minutes today.
Dr Lee of the NUS commented, however, that there seem to be a lot of entrances and exits, which can prove to be "challenging" to motorists.
He said too many entrances and exits could disrupt traffic flow. He added a better way would be to have fewer access and exit points, which means drivers have to travel a slightly longer way to and from the expressway, but will experience a far smoother drive once they are on it.
Mr Chew assured motorists that the highway will be designed in a way that ensures smooth flow.