Jul 14, 2011

MRT works to resume at Maplewoods

LTA's plan addresses residents' concerns, says Balakrishnan

By Royston Sim & Jamie Ee Wen Wei

CONSTRUCTION work on the MRT Downtown Line 2 outside Maplewoods condominium in Bukit Timah Road will resume in a few days, after a month's delay brought about by protests from unhappy residents.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, announced this to residents at a dialogue between them and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) last night.

'We need to get the line done, we need to get it done as quickly as possible to minimise the disturbance and disruption to all of you, and we need to make it as safe as possible,' he said.

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, added that he had discussed the issue with Cabinet, and the view is LTA's plan has addressed residents' safety concerns.

LTA officials said work on the King Albert Park station, which will be located outside the condo, has to go on because many other commuters are waiting to use the Downtown Line 2, which will run from Bukit Panjang to Bugis.

But the 100 or so residents who had gathered at the condo's function room were still unhappy.

The meeting started at 8pm with management committee chairman Michael Tan presenting a new tunnelling proposal for LTA to consider.

For 2-1/2 hours, he and the others argued why theirs was a better proposal, and when LTA engineers told them it would delay the project, they expressed scepticism.

Finally, at 10.30pm, Dr Balakrishnan, who had been sitting at the front of the room, took over the microphone and addressed the residents.

While promising that he and LTA officials would continue to hear residents' concerns, he said: 'I cannot have a system in Singapore where I can tell any group of residents you will not have a launch shaft near your residence. It's not possible.

'Someone, somewhere, will need to have it. And where it will be, will be done on technical and operational reasons while watching out for your safety.'

He, fellow MP Christopher de Souza and the LTA officials who had attended the meeting then took their leave, after which the residents had a closed-door meeting.

At 11.30pm, Mr Tan came out and told reporters that he was 'very disappointed' and said their proposal would 'save cost'. Work at the King Albert Park site was supposed to have started last month and completed in 2015. But it was halted on June 6 when the Maplewoods residents protested.

Their main beef was how, during the construction of the line, a launch shaft has to be built at the King Albert Park worksite.

LTA has explained that the launch shaft is needed to lower and launch tunnelling machines that will build the tunnels between King Albert Park station and the next station at Sixth Avenue. It will be removed once works are over.

Residents had wanted the launch shaft to be sited at the worksite of Sixth Avenue station instead. But LTA said this would mean acquiring 10 shophouses in Sixth Avenue, and also lead to $500 million in additional costs and a 38-month delay for the Downtown Line 2.

But locating the launch shaft at the King Albert Park worksite does not require acquisition.

Residents had other complaints, from traffic disruptions to pedestrian safety.

But while residents are unhappy now, property players expect values at Maplewoods to rise once the Downtown Line 2 is up and running.

Said ERA Realty key executive Eugene Lim: 'It will definitely have some positive impact on prices. Having an MRT station at your doorstep makes the whole place more desirable.'

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THE Land Transport Authority said that it has taken measures to address safety concerns raised by Maplewoods residents. Among other things, it has:

# Installed new traffic lights in Bukit Timah Road near The Nexus condominium to make it easier for Maplewoods residents to exit the condominium, and painted 'slow' markings on the roads leading up to Maplewoods.

# Revised traffic arrangements so construction vehicles will no longer cut across the condominium's entranceIt has also proposed to:

# Build and fund an access gate at the back of Maplewoods to provide residents' children with direct access to the Methodist Girls' School.

# Build two footpaths - a 1.2m-wide footpath on the condominium's premises and a 1.5m-wide public path around the construction site.

# Relocate the main gate for truck access to the lower segment of Blackmore Drive, away from Bukit Timah Road.