After election win, Pan Borneo Highway back on track

KUCHING: Fresh off a big win in the Sarawak state elections, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has promised to bridge the development divide between largely rural East Malaysia and the peninsula, including through the multi-billion dollar Pan Borneo Highway.

The 2,239km highway linking up Sarawak to Sabah via Brunei has been more than 50 years in the making and it is only expected to be fully operational by 2023. Mr Najib renewed the federal government’s commitment to its completion after his coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), won 72 out of 82 Sarawak state legislative assembly seats on May 7.

“Because of the Goods and Services Tax, we’re able to introduce a number of new development projects in Sarawak in particular, especially the Pan Borneo Highway, which has probably been the single ‘wow factor’ in Sarawak because of the enormous benefit it’ll bring to the state,” Mr Najib said at a press conference after BN’s win.

Some US$7 billion was allocated in Malaysia’s 2016 budget for the construction, widening and improvement of existing roads to form what will be known as the Pan Borneo Highway.

There are big plans in store for Serian, one of the towns along the Pan Borneo Highway. (Photo: Syafiq Safian)

Sarawak alone is almost as large as the peninsula and the highway is expected to reduce travel time across the length of the state from “19 hours to 12 hours”, as well as improve accessibility to remote areas for business and tourism across Borneo.

Towns along the highway are also hoping to benefit – including Serian, about 65km out of Sarawak’s capital city, Kuching. Local authorities want to make it a “must-stop” destination for travellers and business owners Channel NewsAsia spoke to were excited at the prospects.

“It’s good, very good… Of course business will get a boost; it will go up,” said a shopkeeper. 

There are concerns about the impact the highway will have on the environment and wildlife. (Photo: Syafiq Safian)

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