PENGKALAN GAWI-ARING ROAD A TROUBLED STRETCH
At least 15 sites along the road have been damaged by landslides, some so severe they have cut off the road entirely
TRAVELLING on the road from Pengkalan Gawi in Tasik Kenyir to Felda Aring at the Kelantan border, a distance of about 70km, used to be a relaxing experience as the lake and soothing lush green forest often offer surprises to the attentive traveller.
Never mind the winding road, because a slow drive is always safer and it is difficult to get sleepy because the picturesque scenery will always make you want to stop by the road shoulder to snap pictures to remind you of the trip.
The road, built some 15 years ago, earned its reputation as the most scenic interior road in the country with the vastness of Tasik Kenyir as its background. It was the choice road for travellers from Terengganu as it is a shortcut to Gua Musang, Cameron Highlands and Kuala Krai in Kelantan, bypassing the JertehMacang-Kuala Krai road, which may take one about five hours to reach Cameron Highlands.
The shorter two-hour difference in travel time meant travellers can spend more time in Cameron Highlands, a popular tourist destination.
However, of late, the Pengkalan Gawi-Aring road has become a troubled stretch, mostly caused by the wrath of nature and partly by humans.
Heavy rain over the years has tested human ingenuity in carving the hillslopes to build the road, but it is obvious that nature has won. At least 15 locations along the road have been damaged by landslides, some so severe that they have cut off the road entirely.
Most of the steep slopes that have crumbled during the monsoon are being repaired by contractors appointed by the Public Works Department (PWD) to ensure that it is safe for road users.
But, road repairs and resurfacing have been affected by lorries loaded with iron ore that use the road to send cargo to Kuantan. Despite the winding road and slow crawl uphill at certain stretches, it is still the shortest route.
These lorries use the Gua Musang-Kuala Lipis-Kuantan road to reach their destination, but this stretch is often patrolled by road enforcement authorities and with the availability of a weighing station, chances are these drivers could get summonses.
These lorries laden with iron ore weigh more than 80 tonnes, but most roads in the country are designed with a load bearing capacity of 40 tonnes.
It is no wonder that what used to be a safe stretch for travellers along the Pengkalan Gawi-Aring road are now not only an eyesore and a danger due to the crumbling hillslopes, but the road is also littered with deep potholes.
A PWD source said a newly resurfaced area on the road requires at least four hours to harden, but, unfortunately, heavy lorries ply the road all the time.
It was recently observed that at least 30 lorries pass through the road or stop for refreshments at stalls along the road. A convoy of five lorries may move together and the impact of the 40 tonnes of excess weight is evident on the newly repaired potholes.
Unfortunately, the cost of repair is not borne by the owners of these lorries, but by PWD, which had to use public funds each time the potholes become too dangerous for road users, especially those travelling at night.
If the potholes and landslides are not enough, the Pengkalan Gawi-Aring road has also become a target for scrap metal thieves who have been removing screws, packers and galvanised steel beams of the road’s guardrails.
It was observed that nearly all the guardrails have been removed of the screws that attach it to the poles. Some metal beams have also been removed, while some still dangle on their poles, waiting to be carted away.
At about RM2,000 per tonne, the guardrails are easy target for thieves who are believed to be working in groups, with a team on motorcycles removing the screws, while another team carts away the heavy guardrails in lorries.
The road is not patrolled by uniformed enforcement bodies, and this makes it easier for thieves to remove the guardrails along the secluded road.
The guardrails are a safety barrier to protect vehicles from veering into ravines and falling off the steep gradients, as well as to prevent wild animals, especially tapirs, elephants and wild boars, from crossing the road.
As repair work on the slopes is ongoing, a PWD source said to prevent losing more guardrails, the department has decided to replace them with concrete barriers to stop theft and vandalism once and for all.
It is hoped that once the repair work along the affected stretch has been completed, the Road Transport Department will mount more roadblocks more frequently to prevent iron ore lorries from using the road.
It is also hoped that the Pengkalan Gawi-Aring road will reclaim its status as the most scenic interior road linking the east and west, and enhance Tasik Kenyir as a premier tourist attraction once it is declared a duty-free area, possibly at the end of this year. email@example.com The writer is NST's Specialist Writer based in Terengganu. He is an environmentalist and enjoys capturing the beauty of flora and fauna in its fragile environment. He draws his inspiration from cross-country drives on and off-road adventures
It is also hoped that the Pengkalan Gawi-Aring road will reclaim its status as the most scenic interior road linking the east and west, and enhance Tasik Kenyir as a premier tourist attraction once it is declared a duty-free area, possibly at the end of this year.
Heavy rain over the years has tested human ingenuity in carving the hillslopes to build Pengkalan Gawi-Aring road, but it is obvious that nature has won.