: On paper, the 2,000-kilometre long Pan Borneo Highway stretches from Telok Melano at the southwestern tip of Sarawak to Serudong in Sabah across Brunei.
Now in its third year of implementation, the mega project is being viewed as a potential game changer that can catalyse the economic growth in the areas where the road traverses.
Quite unlike Peninsular Malaysia's 772km-long PLUS highway where motorists have to pay a toll of more than RM100 to travel from Bukit Kayu Hitam, Kedah, to Johor Bahru, the Pan Borneo Highway is going to be toll-free.
The Pan Borneo Highway was first announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in April 2013 as part of Barisan Nasional's manifesto during the 13th General Election and it was later formalised in Budget 2015.
The project's objective is to accelerate the social and economic growth of Sabah and Sarawak so that no community is left behind in the federal government's efforts to bring progress to all Malaysians.
Sarawak's portion of the Pan Borneo Highway was launched by Najib in Bintulu in March 2015, and Sabah's in April 2016.
The entire project, estimated to cost RM29 billion, is expected to be completed in 2023.
Initially, the 300-odd people living in Telok Melano, about 100km from Kuching, were not expected to benefit from the Pan Borneo Highway project as their village was not included in the original highway plan.
Telok Melano is a small fishing village located close to the Indonesian border and it has no proper roads linking it to the rest of the state. Sematan is the nearest town but it is only accessible by boat.
The Pan Borneo Highway Sarawak project was originally supposed to link Sematan to Miri.
However, the construction of a 32.7km road connecting Telok Melano to Sematan, costing RM580 million, was added to the project following a request by the late chief minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, who was concerned about the welfare of the Telok Melano folk.
Work on this stretch is currently ongoing and it is expected to be completed by 2019.
Telok Melano villager Adenan Saba, 59, is looking forward to the completion of the road as it would make it easier for him and his fellow villagers to travel to Sematan and other parts of the state.
"Currently, whenever we have to go to Sematan, we have to go by boat. Even then, we can only take the boat when the weather conditions and water currents are conducive, otherwise it can be dangerous," he said.
The completion of the Telok Melano-Sematan road is expected to boost tourism as the beach at the picturesque fishing village offers panoramic views and delicious seafood is available there too.
Currently, about 25 out of the 54 families living there offer homestay packages.
"If the late chief minister was alive, he would have been happy to see the road being built now. I'm sure more tourists will visit Telok Melano once the road is ready," added Adenan. COASTAL ROAD ALSO A PRIORITY PROJECT
Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof said recently that the government was committed to completing the Pan Borneo Highway project on time.
He also reiterated the government's commitment to building the proposed coastal network of feeder roads which will provide the state's coastal areas better access to the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE) growth nodes and the Pan Borneo Highway.
The proposed coastal network will include the construction of three bridges - at Batang Lupar, Batang Igan and Batang Rambungan - at a total cost of RM1.4 billion.
It will connect towns like Kota Samarahan, Sadong Jaya, Sebuyau, Kabong, Tanjong Manis, Daro, Matu, Balingian and Bintulu to the Pan Borneo Highway.
Contractor Abang Abdul Kadir, 38, cannot wait for the coastal road network to become a reality as his business requires him to commute frequently to the small towns located in the coastal areas.
He is confident that the new network would shorten travelling time for him, besides rendering transportation more efficient and comfortable for the local communities there.
He said the 1.48km Batang Sadong bridge, which was opened last December, was a boon to the people living in Kota Samarahan and Sadong Jaya as it enabled them to travel safely and efficiently.
"However, to travel further up north, more roads and bridges have to be built," he said.
The feeder roads (that would form part of the coastal network) would lead to improved accessibility for people living in villages and longhouses in remote areas which, he added, was in line with the government's agenda of inclusivity. SARAWAK'S LONGEST BRIDGE
The proposed 5.1km Batang Lupar bridge in Sebuyau, set to be the longest bridge in Sarawak, will bring great benefits to the people living in that area.
In July, Fadillah said the tender for the construction of the RM1 billion bridge would be awarded next year.
He said the cost of building the bridge would be shared by the federal and state governments on a 50-50 basis. It will take between 26 and 60 months to complete the project.
Recently, Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg announced the construction of a bridge across Batang Lasso in Daro to complement the Mukah-Tanjung Manis coastal road which will traverse towns like Pulau Bruit, Daro and Matu.
Contractor Khairul Abdullah, 41, sees great potential for new economic zones to open after the completion of the Pan Borneo Highway and coastal road network.
"The economic spillover (from the bigger towns) will not only benefit entrepreneurs but also the local communities," he said.
Meanwhile, the construction of a 102km highway connecting Kapit, Song, Kanowit and Sibu is currently underway and when completed in 2019, it would benefit some 100,570 people living in the surrounding areas as it would reduce their dependence on river transport.
Najib himself had visited the road project site at Sungai Yong in Kapit in May 2016 and, on his blog NajibRazak.com, he posted: "... the government has never neglected development in Sarawak and has always provided allocations, especially in the development of infrastructure, clean water supply, electricity supply as well as improving the network of transportation and roads in each federal government annual budget since I took over the leadership as Prime Minister." - BERNAMA