The Borneo Post (Sabah)

How Telupid will be troubled by Pan Borneo Highway


This is the final section of a fivepart history of how Sabah’s roads have been developed since the British times; from this reflection on the past, we hope to learn for the future of road developmen­t in Sabah, particular­ly with regard to the Pan Borneo Highway.

This article focuses on the birth and growth of Telupid, a town whose history is the history of road building. The town didn’t even exist before the first road linked Sabah’s east and west coasts in the 1960s. The first big building in the town was the facilities for Australian-supported Malaysia Australia Roads Project Project (MARP), and the first government offices were made in that former project headquarte­rs. With the new road came people - both migrants from crowded areas along the west coast, and locals who moved next to the road from scattered villages previously along the rivers. The population grew, the economy grew, the road improved, and Telupid even became a district. The people of Telupid love the road. The old MARP signs with the kangaroo on are still celebrated.

In 1960 Sabah’s Legislativ­e Council accepted the report by Sargent featured in the last history of roads article, and under the Sabah Developmen­t Plan 1965-1970, implemente­d it as the foundation for Sabah’s transforma­tive advancemen­t through the 1960s and Merdeka. About a quarter of the British aid and Sabah’s state revenue allocated to growing the road network in 1960-64 was spent on this cross-Sabah Telupid Road.

The Telupid road was a difficult one, and built in stages in the 1960s and 1970s, and increasing­ly with Australian assistance. The purpose, surprising­ly enough, was to access agricultur­al land in Labuk. It was not built to benefit the people along the route nor even to link Sandakan and Kota Kinabalu (but that became a purpose later as part of nationbuil­ding).

The planning documents show that the reason the road started at the west coast was to enable migration eastwards of new workers and farmers. The reason it went on to Sandakan afterwards was to allow export of cash crops. It was built for rice and cocoa but by the time it was finished oil palm was the favoured crop.

The people of Telupid worked hard to get many benefits from this road that intended to pass them by. How tragic it is then that more road building here, namely for the four-lane Pan Borneo Highway (PBH), now threatens the decline of the town of Telupid and even the survival of many of the villages built along its length.

Locally the new Pan Borneo Highway was promoted as bringing developmen­t benefits along the way to an in-between town like Telupid. But at the same time we in the cities are often told that it is being built to shorten the traveling time between the coasts - so that we can whiz through Telupid and its villages without delay and distractio­n. Therefore, what will happen to this Telupid “middle earth” and its people when the roads are upgraded, shifted and expanded?

At first the people in Telupid believed that investment in a fourlane highway mega project would automatica­lly bring economic growth to the town and the kampungs nearby. But then when they learned the actual plans the problems became clear: expansion meant that some kampungs would have to be sacrificed.

This led to several of these villages to band together to request the government to relocate the road away from the current road to protect their villages by running instead through the Tawai Class One Forest Reserve (Totally Protected).

This idea also appealed because drawing on their historical experience, many villagers believed that legally or illegally they would then be able to settle along the new road within the Tawai Forest. But the new road followed an elephant migration route and cars and elephants don’t mix.

Transport planners may worry about lessening traffic in Telupid town, but local business rely on being the only stop with Ranau along the Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu route; if the new highway bypasses the town centre and shortens the journey so much, will the commuters still stop for refreshmen­ts and a short rest? The new vision may be for large designated R&R areas along the highway itself, run commercial­ly with the usual concession­aires with little option for the villagers to build informal stalls with lines of parked cars using the new lane to park while they buy their snacks. If all this happens, the traders and coffee shop owners are concerned that Telupid may fade away, reminiscen­t of what happened to Tanjung Malim, Bidor and Bagan Serai. These scenic and nostalgic small towns were favourite hangout places of lorry drivers and travelers in the northern part of Peninsular Malaysia. Today, they have been circumvent­ed and left behind by the PLUS highway.

This would be a shame for Telupid which is trying to build a local economy that connects historical tourism around the World War II Death Marches to nature-based activities in its Forest Reserves and with its elephants.

Given all these problems many Telupid villagers have wanted to know whether just better maintainin­g the existing two-lane road wasn’t an option. This is the heart of the issue. Telupid came into existence in the 1960s because of a new road – and enjoyed the benefits of road building in its once glory days – but deeper consultati­on and better planning will now be needed to protect it from new mega road constructi­on.

 ??  ?? Telupid road today.
Telupid road today.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia