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Plans for CBD underground road network shelved

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Plans to build the Singapore Underground Road System (SURS), an extensive subterranean road network linking Singapore's central business district (CBD), Marina Bay Downtown and Southern Waterfront District, have been called off.

Singapore

PLANS to build the Singapore Underground Road System (SURS), an extensive subterranean road network linking Singapore's central business district (CBD), Marina Bay Downtown and Southern Waterfront District, have been called off.

In a joint announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the agencies said that the land previously safeguarded for this road system will now be "de-safeguarded" with effect from Tuesday.

"Safeguarding" refers to reserving space for the construction of a major infrastructure project to avoid conflicting demands in the future.

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So, for instance, care would be taken to make engineering provisions should there be properties sitting on the demarcated lines (see map) to make the building of the underground tunnels possible.

SURS

With the safeguards now lifted, this will give previously affected land owners greater flexibility in their development plans, the agencies said.

Land along the SURS alignment was safeguarded in 1993. The whole project was estimated to cost about S$4.8 billion to execute.

LTA and URA said the decision was made to dovetail with Singapore's vision of a car-lite society. It added that upcoming MRT lines and the decentralisation of offices to the city fringe have removed the need for SURS.

The SURS was conceptualised in the late 1980s as a 15-km long underground arterial ring road system around the city fringe to cater to potential traffic growth into and out of the city centre.

In 1996, LTA expanded this vision to 30 km of two- to four-lane roads forming a pair of concentric rings under the city centre. It revisited the idea in the 2013 Land Transport Masterplan with a view to further expand this road network.

Such roads free up surface space and improve the liveability of urban areas. They are also found in cities such as Brussels, Stockholm, Madrid, Paris, Hamburg and Boston.

But the government has now changed its mind. "The city centre is well-served by a comprehensive public transport network," it said on Tuesday.

It explained that the full opening of the Downtown Line on Oct 21 will improve public transport connectivity, especially for commuters travelling from the north-western and eastern regions of the island to the CBD and Marina Bay areas.

When completed in 2024, the Thomson-East Coast Line will also connect commuters in the northern and eastern parts of Singapore to the city, while Circle Line stage six will close the loop for the line by around 2025.

LTA and URA said: "By 2030, our rail network will be 360 km long, and more than 90 per cent of developments in the CBD will be within a five-minute walk to an MRT station.

"As part of our polycentric development strategy, the government has also been growing more commercial centres in different regions outside the city. This brings employment and amenities closer to homes, thereby reducing the need for travel into and out of the city centre."

Some of the areas that offices have decentralised to include Jurong, Buona Vista and Paya Lebar.

All this is not to say that the government will be ruling out the possibility of underground development. In fact, its Committee on the Future Economy this year recommended to expedite the development of a comprehensive underground master plan to identify potential underground uses for large infrastructure such as bus interchanges and electrical substations. Even developments in the airspace over existing buildings and roads are a distinct possibility.

Scott Dunn, vice-president for South-east Asia at engineering firm Aecom, said that the need to go underground and even aerial will intensify as population densities increase.

"There is great potential for both underground and elevated infrastructure development in Singapore, not just for transportation purposes, but also for live, work and play. Singapore is unique in that subterranean uses have become a way of life in our city."

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