Mangrove Motorway

It is now apparently certain – such a qualification is always necessary here – that the preferred road option to solve the traffic jams between Jimbaran and Kuta is the elevated highway on pylons over the mangroves east of the present Bypass Ngurah Rai. The Sanur-Tanjung Benoa bridge was always a non-starter, given the muddle over who owns the land involved and the conflicting requirements of the Port of Benoa (which requires international-rules bridge clearance for shipping) and the airport, which must provide internationally acceptable minimum approach and takeoff heights above obstructions.

So on balance, the “mangrove motorway” is a reasonable solution to the problem. A new eleven-kilometre-long road to link South Denpasar with Nusa Dua is really the only option, given that any land-based “highway” here instantly acquires buildings and businesses alongside it that create further traffic problems and mostly foreclose on duplicating the carriageway or any other meaningful improvements. At least a highway on pylons over the swamp is unlikely to attract substantial additional infrastructure. The authorities will have to make sure the new road does not become a dumping ground for rubbish. There’s enough garbage in the tide zone already.

The price is high – the figure cited for building the road is Rp1.4 trillion (US$155 million) – but not only in cash. It will involve planting 1,000 massive concrete pylons in sensitive (never mind protected) mangrove forest that itself forms an essential breeding ground for marine life and plays a vital role in mitigating tsunamis and limiting coastal erosion. That there will be some damage to the mangrove forest is inevitable. That is a pity. But development always comes at some cost to the natural environment. On balance, and in this instance only, it’s probably worth the cost.

What now needs to happen is perhaps the hardest part of all. The national, provincial and local governments must not only resolve to work together – to play from the same shadow puppet script – but the work must be done quickly as well as safely. Environmental damage to the mangroves must be limited as far as is practically possible. And of course, Governor I Made Mangku Pastika requires it all to be finished and in operation by the time Bali hosts its extravaganza of the decade, the APEC Summit at Nusa Dua in 2113.

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