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  Today Online 21 Mar 07
Save our heritage
Letter from Tan Swee Huang

Today Online 15 Mar 07
Tunnel visions

Today Online 13 Mar 07
Tunnel vision is no excuse
Letter from Vasanthan Govindasamy

Today Online 12 Mar 07
How important are those five minutes?

Was the Fort Canning Tunnel worth it, after all?
Siew Kum Hong

HOW much is five minutes worth to me? That was the thought running through my head as I drove through the new Fort Canning Tunnel.

The actual experience of driving through it was so anti-climactic that I couldn't help but wonder if that was it.

After all, so many Singaporeans had, in a rare display of civic activism, tried so hard to stop the demolition of the National Library at Stamford Road. It is only natural to have high expectations for what it made way for. From purely anecdotal evidence, many are as disappointed as I was.

This gives rise to the question: Was the tunnel worth it after all?

Last November, when asked if the cost of the tunnel was justified by its benefits, the Land Transport Authority's (LTA) director for road development and management Yap Cheng Chwee told this newspaper: "I don't think it is fair to use a cost-benefit analysis to analyse the project. The main aim was better utilisation and parcellation of land around the area. We found that there was a need to redirect roads in the area and the tunnel was the solution. Benefits like time savings for motorists are a result of the primary mission to utilise land better."

I found that answer baffling then, and I remain baffled now. How does the LTA make decisions, if not through a cost-benefit analysis? Is there any other basis for decisions?

Surely the LTA does not spend millions of dollars of taxpayers' money without considering the costs and benefits of such expenditure.

For the record, I do not believe that the LTA operates like that. Even Mr Yap himself, immediately after saying that a cost-benefit analysis was unfair, alluded to the benefits of the tunnel project.

So let's put his comments aside, and consider the tunnel's costs and benefits. The main benefit is the reported time savings for motorists of up to five minutes, by using the tunnel.

But how important is five minutes to Singaporean motorists, especially when, given the route involved, it is likely to be leisure time? After all, many motorists are willing to spend more than five minutes to take a more circuitous route, to avoid paying ERP.

Furthermore, this time saved needs to be balanced against the increased time spent by motorists turning towards Serangoon Road, who now have to navigate an additional turn and a new pedestrian crossing. I've also noticed that buses leaving the Capitol Building bus stop now have to edge their way across two lanes to turn right before the tunnel, frequently slowing traffic along Stamford Road.

So even as motorists heading into Penang Road save time, those turning towards Serangoon Road spend more time.

The other benefit cited was the freeing up of a football field-sized plot of land, now made available for use by the Singapore Management University. This is prime land, and is certainly valuable.

On the other hand, the land surrounding and above the tunnel is now unavailable for development. Furthermore, there is the $34 million spent to build the tunnel, and the ongoing maintenance costs of the tunnel.

The value of the land freed up must be offset against these factors. When the costs resulting from the tunnel are identified and totalled up, the benefits look even less impressive than they originally did.

And let's not forget the intangible and unquantifiable cost, namely the destruction of a landmark building cherished by so many Singaporeans.

National Development Minister Mah Bow Tan recently emphasised the importance of conserving Singapore's heritage buildings and places in light of the plans to redevelop the city, as "these are things that we all remember and want our children to remember with us".

This is a very welcome acknowledgment of the intangible value of memories.

And despite the official stance that the National Library building had no special historical or architectural value and was not worthy of conservation, it certainly was a place that many Singaporeans remembered and were fond of, and I daresay much more so than many other officially sanctioned heritage buildings.

That being the case, and in view of Mr Yap's comments, the public especially those Singaporeans who had argued so passionately against the project deserves a full and clear explanation from the LTA as to why it decided to demolish the National Library to build the tunnel, and the cost-benefit analysis undertaken by it.

The writer is a Nominated Member of Parliament and corporate counsel commenting in his personal capacity.

Today Online 13 Mar 07
Tunnel vision is no excuse
Letter from Vasanthan Govindasamy

I refer to the article, "How important are those five minutes?" by Mr Siew Kum Hong (March 12).

Whether the tunnel saves five minutes of travelling time or not, I would say that the old National Library was a building dear to the many Singaporeans who had used it over the years.

Now, whenever I drive by the area, I see a tunnel in the place of a national icon. Call it tunnel vision.

Indeed, I wonder if the people who decided to have the tunnel built had ever spent time at the National Library. That the tunnel will save Singaporeans a few minutes is not an excuse they will accept. I, for one, avoid it because I don't see the fanfare.

Although I would not have urged the authorities to keep the National Library as a library, they could have utilised it in other ways as a landmark, like the nearby National Museum. A museum and a library make a more ideal pair than a museum and a tunnel, which now seems out of place.

To the authorities: Have a heart as to what we ought to preserve. It doesn't matter that a huge sum of money was spent on the tunnel but it took the place of an eye-catching library that was a must-visit destination for many Singaporeans.

Today Online 15 Mar 07
Tunnel visions

More land for roads needed
Letter from TAN KOK TIM

NOMINATED MP Siew Kum Hong has asked the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to explain its cost-benefit analysis for the $34-million Fort Canning tunnel in his I Say piece, "How important are those five minutes?" (March 12).

I believe that saving motorists five minutes is not the sole reason for demolishing the old National Library building to make way for the construction of the tunnel.

There must be a bigger picture we should not miss. The LTA has to ensure there is no traffic jam in the downtown Central Business District (CBD) and the roads within a 1km radius of the Singapore Management University. The massive traffic jams last weekend at Suntec City proved that the roads cannot cope when huge crowds converge in that central area.

So, actually, more road development should be done. The Transport Ministry and LTA can only claim success when traffic flows freely in the CBD and the expressways and major highways are free of traffic jams, too.

While the LTA has been effective in building diversionary roads around the Circle Line construction worksites, it baffles me that they cannot solve snarls on expressways caused by narrow and inadequate exit roads. If they have to acquire more land for the common good, so be it.

Relook criteria for conservation
Letter from TAN CHEK TEE

I could not help but feel the reopening of an old wound when I read about the tunnel that replaced the old National Library.

I may not be old enough to have had my first date there, but I always have had fond memories of that red brick building. Many a weekend afternoon was spent there with my parents during my primary school years.

What then, may I ask, are the criteria for conservation? Isn't an icon that holds special memories for generations of Singaporeans enough justification or do we need a commercial white knight to "rescue" it, a la St James Power Station?

Why do we seem to only preserve pre-war buildings when we should really be preserving buildings that were designed and built during the early days of our nationhood? These buildings might look plain compared to the old colonial edifices, but they carry in them the spirit and aspirations of a young nation struggling to find its footing in the world.

I hope that the upgrading of our transport infrastructure to cater to the needs of the projected 6.5-million population target will not result in another national tragedy such as what had happened to the old National Library. We can always find new uses for old spaces.

On the other hand, replacing the old with the new should not be our national reflex.

It's a costly nation-building error
Letter from Lyndis Kang

I AM grateful that Mr Siew Kum Hong has written about the decision to demolish the old National Library building for the Fort Canning Tunnel. I am still utterly disappointed with the decision, and I think it is one that Singaporeans will always remember.

I still mutter in discontent each time I pass by the tunnel. Now, it seems the benefits of easing traffic is marginal at most.

That adds insult to injury. For Singaporeans who already have so little to anchor us to our homeland, we have lost an important icon. The old National Library was especially precious to the post-1965 generation of Singaporeans, many of whom grew attached to it, having spent much of their youthful days there.

While there should definitely be some reflection done on the damage caused by this decision, what good is it if the LTA conducts a full cost-benefit analysis? The only value I see in such an exercise is if it guides future generations of policymakers not to repeat such a move. It is a costly mistake in terms of nation-building.

Today Online 21 Mar 07
Save our heritage
Letter from Tan Swee Huang

I refer to the recent discussion following Mr Siew Kum Hong's article on the Fort Canning Tunnel, "How important are those five minutes?" (March 12).

The National Library and the old National Theatre are national institutions that will be sorely missed. So, too, the Van Kleef Aquarium, which was demolished in 1986 to make way for a PUB tunnel.

Twenty-one years is a long time, yet many still remember it, despite some having only very vague childhood memories of it. The next to go will be the National Stadium.

Should we blame it on the scarcity of land here or on poor conservation policies? I quote from a Mr Edwin in one of the blogs I read: "Memories connect people and root them to a place. It gives people a sense of belonging. This in turn builds into loyalty and patriotism for the nation."

Save our heritage, just as the National Environment Agency and the Land Transport Authority have worked together to save a precious tree right in the middle of Braddell Road outside Braddell View although I found this move potentially dangerous, especially for motorists unfamiliar with the place (who would expect to see a tree in the middle of a road?).

Are these buildings less precious than trees? Can't alternatives be sought to current plans, so that the buildings can be preserved?

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