Bustling and booming in Bukit Mertajam

The once small town of Bukit Mertajam is thriving with shopping malls and new housing schemes.

Over the years, locals have seen a spate of shopping malls such as Aeon City in Bandar Perda and Tesco hypermarket in Jalan Rozhan, Alma.

A slew of residential housing projects includes Villa Lagenda and Bayu Mutiara located near the town centre.

Senior citizens caught in the development frenzy are constantly reminiscing the good old days.

The parliamentary constituency covers three state constituencies — Berapit, Machang Bubuk and Padang Lalang.

The town which is also popularly known as Da Shan Jiao in Mandarin is unique because it has a little bit of everything that defines the culturally rich enclave of Penang.

This includes the annual grand candlelight procession during St Anne’s Feast to the biggest Tai Su Yeah (King of Hades) send-off during Hungry Ghost Festival.

Tourists have also come from around the world to experience the laid-back Malay culture at the small village of Mengkuang Titi homestay programme.

However, beneath the small town charm of Bukit Mertajam with a compelling blend of diversity, lies several issues which include traffic congestion and poor public transportation system.

The pace of modernisation has resulted in skyrocketing house prices.

The price of semi-detached terrace houses in some of the fastest growing areas in Bukit Mertajam has rocketed up to RM1mil while certain double-storey houses are priced at RM500,000.

A trader who wants to be known only as Lisa, 27, from Kampung Guar Jering, is concerned over the lack of affordable housing in the constituency.

“This has resulted in many people being forced to stay in rented premises.

“Though I have been saving for some years to buy a house, I was disappointed when I last saw a double-storey terrace house in Penanti costing RM280,000,” she said.

Lisa added that the skyrocketing house prices had hit hard those from low-income groups.

Food stall operator Azman Ishak, 52, voiced similar views saying there was a need of more affordable housing.

“Though prices of property are increasing annually, there is a lack of development or upgrading of facilities in Bukit Mertajam,” he said.

“For years, we have only one proper wet market and a hospital within the surrounding area.

“How can they accommodate the growing number of residents who are moving into new housing projects?” he asked.

Having lived in Taman Sejahtera, Alma, for the past seven years, clerk M. Sharas, 50, said there was a need to revamp the public transportation system.

“I rely solely on public buses to get to my workplace in Butterworth and also to go around the Bukit Mertajam town.

“Unfortunately, there is no Rapid Penang bus that passes through my housing area,” she said.

Her elder sister Dewi, 55, said the number of buses in residential areas was not enough to service the needs of the people.

“It is a long two-hour wait for the buses. It is especially troublesome during an emergency when we need to rush someone to hospital,” the factory worker said.

Scrap metal dealer Lee Chien Poay, 53, said the heavy traffic had led to chaos during peak hours.

“It happens mostly during school rush hours in the mornings and afternoons.

“Jit Sin Independent High School, SMK Convent Bukit Mer-tajam and SJK (C) Kim Sen are located just a stone’s throw from one another. The jam is bad there,” he said.

Lee said despite the additional flyover linking Jalan Maju-Jalan Song Ban Kheng and Jalan Kulim, traffic was still heavy after school hours.

“There are severe traffic crawls up to Jalan Usahaniaga which links to the Bukit Mertajam town,” he said.

He hoped the construction of a flyover between Jalan Nangka and Jalan Sungai Rambai heading to Juru Auto City, which was expected to be completed next year, would ease traffic congestions.

Coffee shop owner Ang Tat Len, 62, urged the authorities to look into overcoming traffic crawls on weekdays.

Born and bred in Bukit Mertajam, Ang spent his early years working in Singapore and stayed in Johor Baru for several years.

“During the late 1990s, I decided to move back to my hometown to retire here.

“However, this is not the small town I used to live in. I prefer a carefree lifestyle with less traffic and houses sold at affordable prices,” he said. - By HAN KAR KAY (The Star)

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