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

New Straits Times - - Opinion -

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. rosli_za­karia59@ya­hoo.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.

PIC COUR­TESY OF ROAD TRANS­PORT DEPART­MENT

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.

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