08 October 2007

Building Bridges

Linking the islands of Java and Sumatra is not a new dream and in fact has been around since the 1960s, but nonetheless it has been a dream at least until now. The Governors of Banten in West Java and the Lampung on the southern tip of Sumatra have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Tomy Winata the owner of the Artha Graha Group.

The project is expected to start with a preliminary feasibility study to be completed by 2009. This is to be followed with a full scale feasibility study through to 2012. Construction is then expected to take anywhere up to 2025 to complete. When completed the bridge will span the Sunda Strait and stretch some 29 kilometres from the port of Merak in West Java to the port of Bakauheni in Lampung. The bridge is expected to have 6 traffic lanes and 2 rail tracks.

Construction of this magnitude is not cheap and hence the price tag is already USD 10 billion but if other construction programs in Indonesia, such as the Jakarta Monorail, are any indication then it is likely costs will be significantly more than this.

The challenges of building a bridge that will, if completed, have the longest span of any bridge in the world are daunting, but not necessarily impossible. However, the engineering challenges of the span pale into insignificance when one considers this is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and someone is intending to pound huge concrete pylons into the sea bed. Surely an interesting navigation hazard for the super-tankers plying their trade through the Sunda Strait. But the challenges do not end there. The bridge is to be constructed in one of the world's most active seismic regions and the tsunami and earthquakes that have plagued Indonesia since 2004 are testament to the fact that the seismic activity in this part of the world is, if anything, increasing. The other fascinating environmental issue is that the bridge is a mere 50 kilometres from the Child of Krakatau volcano. Yep, the volcano that emerged from the destruction of the largest volcanic eruption ever-recorded and one that darkened the world and affected atmospheric conditions for more than 2 years.

Not to be deterred, the engineer, Wiratman Wangsadinata, is confident that the bridge can be built with flexible materials that can endure a size 9 earthquake on the Richter Scale.

The Artha Graha Group is an interesting choice or appointment for the purposes of finding / soliciting funds as Tomy Winata has significant ties to the Indonesian military and is never far away from the news and without his critics.

Time will tell whether the Java - Sumatra bridge is anything more than a never-ending pipe dream.

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