Mardika Parama, Jakarta – Land acquisition and human capital issues have remained a challenge in the development of the mega trans-Sumatra toll road project, which might delay its scheduled completion.
State-owned construction company Hutama Karya, which is in charge of most of the trans-Sumatra toll road sections, is still struggling to acquire land in parts of Sumatra, the firm's president director Budi Harto said on Wednesday.
The company has built 629 kilometers of the trans-Sumatra toll road as of October, with 513 km are already in operation.
Budi said the company was currently building an additional 614 km of toll road within the project, which is scheduled to be completed by 2022.
"We are optimistic that we can finish construction by 2022. However, we still need to acquire land in several areas," he said during an online discussion held by Kompas.
Land acquisition has long been an obstacle for the country's toll road projects, along with administrative challenges, high cost of land clearance and difficult terrain. This despite the government's efforts to simplify the land acquisition process, including through the recently passed Job Creation Law.
For example, the opening of the Cisumdawu toll road, which will connect the West Java capital of Bandung and the newly built Kertajati International Airport in Majalengka, has been delayed from the end of this year to September 2021 because of land problems.
The government has aimed for the trans-Sumatra toll road to stretch over 2,900 km upon completion, connecting Sumatra's southernmost province of Lampung to Aceh.
It has also set aside Rp 6.2 trillion (US$440.4 million) in state capital injections (PMN) from the state budget to Hutama Karya to develop the mega project.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said in August that the trans-Sumatra project was targeted to be completed by 2024 and would provide jobs for 296,000 people in the process.
Despite the President's earlier claim, Budi said employing locals for the project remains a challenge due to their lack of expertise, which also posed a problem to the development of the mega toll road project.
"The availability of experts and construction equipment [in Sumatra] is limited, so we have to bring over some [workers and equipment] from Java. However, we constantly try to use local resources and workers during the construction process to boost the local economy," he said during the discussion.
Indonesian Toll Road Authority (BPJT) general division head Mahbullah Nurdin echoed Budi's statement regarding the lengthy land acquisition process, particularly at the Padang-Pekanbaru toll road section, as part of the area is considered to be customary land by West Sumatrans who are reluctant to sell it.
"Land acquisition in West Sumatra is a bit more tricky than in other provinces as there are tribes who own customary land. We hope the local administration can help start a talk with the local tribes regarding this issue," he said.
The Padang-Sicincin section of the Padang-Pekanbaru toll road has had its completion date delayed by a year from 2020 to 2021 due to land acquisition issues.
The Padang-Pekanbaru toll road will stretch for 254 km, connecting the capital cities of West Sumatra and Riau, and is set to be finished by 2025. Hutama Karya signed a construction and operational agreement for the toll road in 2017, with a total investment value of Rp 78 trillion.
Meanwhile, Indonesian Truck Operators Association (Aptrindo) chairman Gemilang Tarigan criticized the absence of a weighbridge in the trans-Sumatra toll road sections that are in operation, which has made many truck drivers hesitant to use the toll road.
Gemilang said that while essentials such as industrial goods and staple foods are still allowed to weigh up to 50 percent heavier than the truck's allowed load, due to the absence of a weighbridge at the toll road gate in the trans-Sumatra sections, the truck's actual load could not be proven by both the driver and authorities.
"Truck drivers are reluctant to enter the toll roads because they're afraid to get ticketed if the police officers on duty suspect them of overloading their trucks," he said.
However, Gemilang praised the currently operating trans-Sumatra toll road between Bakauheni seaport in Lampung and South Sumatra's capital of Palembang, which has been able to cut travel time by up to seven hours, from 12 hours previously.
"With the new toll road, we can reach the end-point in only five hours, and it spares us from treacherous roads with its steep incline, sharp turns and rampant robberies. We feel safe using the toll road," he said.