Zakir Hussain – Straits Times
The islands of Java and Sumatra are a step closer to being linked for the first time in their history by Indonesia’s largest-ever infrastructure project. The China Railway Construction Corporation has inked a deal to invest in the RP 100 trillion ($10.9 billion) Sunda Strait Bridge to link the islands — the largest agreement signed during President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s visit to Beijing last month. The state-owned company is behind several rail projects in Africa and the Middle East.
“The challenges are huge, but this will pave the way for a breakthrough,” said Agung Prabowo, president director of Graha Banten Lampung Sejahtera, the Indonesian consortium behind the project. “We’re not out to break any records, but we want the bridge realized, as it will benefit people on both sides.”
His consortium brings together the provincial governments of Lampung in Sumatra and Banten in Java, as well as a subsidiary of the Artha Graha conglomerate run by tycoon Tommy Winata. It was set up to lay the groundwork for the bridge in 2007.
It is now waiting for a legal guarantee from the Indonesian government, which is expected to come within weeks. The government is eager for foreign investors to take part in building bridges, highways and other facilities to spur the economy.
The 30km bridge had been envisioned by the country’s first president Sukarno since the 1960s, but only recently did steady economic growth make its construction more realistic.
A feasibility study is in the works, and construction is to start in 2014.
The bridge will link 80 per cent of Indonesia’s 240 million people by road and rail, and will take some 10 years to complete. The world’s largest ships will be able to pass under it, as the bridge will stand 80m at its highest.
Indonesia’s longest bridge at present is the 5.4km-long Suramadu Bridge, completed in 2009, that links Surabaya in East Java with the island of Madura. It, too, was built by a consortium of Indonesian and Chinese companies over six years.
Officials on both sides of the strait near where the new bridge will start — in Anyer, Java and Bakauheni, Sumatra — are already gearing up for it, with the Banten and Lampung governments publicizing the bridge to attract investors to set up shop there.
The connection will also intentionally start at Anyer, 40km south of the port of Merak, from which most ferries to Sumatra currently operate.
Geologists and disaster management officials have given the all-clear to the proposed design, by renowned Indonesian architect Wiratman Wangsadinata, which would be able to withstand an earthquake of magnitude 9 as well as eruptions of the Anak Krakatau volcano some 50km away. It was formed after the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa.
“The Sunda Strait is likely to be the site of a major earthquake,” Professor Masyhur Irsyam of the Bandung Institute of Technology said this week. “But this is only a problem if structures are not designed to be strong enough to resist it.”
The bridge will also be 200km from the undersea fault where the Indo-Australian and Eurasian plates meet. As a result, the impact of a tsunami on the bridge will be limited, according to simulations, National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.
But forget about hiking across the bridge for now: Winds at the strait are often fierce, and the crossing by ferry can stretch up to four hours.
In its report on the deal, the Beijing Review cited China Institute of International Studies president Qu Xing as saying that there is great demand for funds and technology in Indonesian infrastructure.
“China is highly experienced in building railways, highways, bridges and irrigation projects, and considers Indonesia one of its major prospective investment destinations,” it said.