$4.3 billion MCE congested on second day of opening

From ‘Motorists fume over slow traffic along newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway’, 30 Dec 2013, article by Kenny Chee, ST

Traffic on the newly-opened Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE) might have been fairly smooth on Sunday when it opened to the public, but it was a different story on Monday.

Travel was slow on several segments of the MCE and surrounding roads. Some motorists said they were stuck on the $4.3 billion expressway for nearly an hour, while some commuters were fuming over having to pay higher than usual taxi fares because they were stuck in jams linked to the expressway.

LTA boasts that the MCE is their ‘most ambitious‘ project to date, flashing earth-shattering statistics like how 1200 Olympic pools’ worth of soil were dug up to create the first of its kind undersea tunnel in Singapore. We all know how expensive this project is (you could build 4 Project Jewels), but here are some other fun facts that LTA might not be so willing to brag about following a nightmarish start to what has been lauded as a marvel of civil engineering. Clearly, in the case of undersea roads, ‘bigger’ and ‘deeper’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘better’, or ‘faster’.

  • Singapore’s second most expensive expressway is the KPE, costing $1.8 billion.
  • When construction started in 2009, LTA’s Chief Executive declared the work a major engineering challenge, that they had successfully ‘moved a river’ for the KPE and have ‘dammed’ the sea for this Kraken of a road. His name? Yam Ah Mee. Dammed if he do, dammed if he don’t.
  • Early the same year, it was reported that the project busted its budget by almost 2 billion (from its original 2.5 billion) because of higher prices of materials and unexpectedly weak soil. Minister Raymond Lim was questioned if his team had looked to other possibilities before building ‘underground and underwater’, but he said none of these were suitable and that the government takes a ‘stringent financial approach’ to evaluate the cost vs benefit of such massive jobs. Money can’t buy you imagination, I suppose.
  • In 2008, the government appointed global engineering firm Mott MacDonald as design consultant for 3 of the 6 contracts. These are the same people behind the first MRT line in Singapore, and worryingly, the Downtown line as well. Incidentally, the Marina Coastal Expressway has a Mc in its acronym. I doubt an Upsize will do any good.
  • Lastly, we make our transport systems ‘safe and smooth flowing through a suite of advanced traffic systems’ called ITS. Or Intelligent Transport Systems. It’s an acronym as ingenious as our expressways themselves.

We’ve been hit by a series of sloppy planning rearing ugly heads in dramatic fashion. First the Downtown line, then the DNC registry reversal and to cap the year off, a disappointing sluggish scrum through the MCE. We’re so used to agencies employing quick recovery action and offering Band-Aid solutions that we confuse their responsiveness and nervous engagement with social media for competency. Anyone can patch a leak, but you need some form of higher intelligence to prevent one. LTA fines SMRT or SMS for crappy work. Who fines the LTA then?

The LTA may have believed they built the tunnel equivalent of the Colossus, but what we have seen so far from opening day jitters is a choking Goliath, with so much emphasis on making the expressway wide and sturdy that we ignore its relationships with surrounding infrastructure and forget how to direct traffic. LTA was quick to publish a help guide to drivers confused about the MCE exits, which to a non-driver like me looks like a trigonometry problem sum confusing enough to quit driving altogether. AYE to ECP or CBD? WTF MCE.


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