Mardika Parama, Jakarta – President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo inaugurated on Tuesday the Indrapuri-Blang Bintang section of the Sigli-Banda Aceh toll road, the first ever toll road in Aceh province, pledging to continue the country's infrastructure projects amid the ongoing health crisis.
The Indrapuri-Blang Bintang section, constructed by state-owned construction company Hutama Karya, stretches 13.5 kilometers and is expected to ease access to the Sultan Iskandar Muda International Airport, which is located in Blang Bintang district.
During the inauguration ceremony, Jokowi lauded the speedy land acquisition process for the Sigli-Banda Aceh toll road, which has reached 86 percent completion.
"The land acquisition process was very quick. If this scheme is implemented in other toll road construction projects, we could operate those roads in no time," he said during the online broadcast of the inauguration.
The Sigli-Banda Aceh toll road project began in 2018 with a total investment of more than Rp 12 trillion (US$816 million). The toll road spans 74.1 km and is divided into six sections.
According to an official statement by the Public Works and Housing Ministry, the Sigli-Banda Aceh toll road will cut the travel time between the two regions to only an hour from around three hours previously.
The toll road is part of the 2,900 km trans-Sumatra toll road megaproject, connecting Aceh, the northernmost province in the island, to Lampung, near the Sunda Strait.
Jokowi also said the government would plow through its infrastructure projects amid the COVID-19 pandemic to boost Indonesia's competitiveness and provide job opportunities during the economic downturn.
"While we are facing the COVID-19 pandemic, we must continue our infrastructure development because logistical costs remain high in our country. Infrastructure development could also become a strategy for our national economic recovery."
The President said he aimed for the trans-Sumatra toll road project to be completed by 2024, adding that it would provide jobs for 296,000 people in the process.
The megaproject, which also includes the 61-km Medan-Kualanamu-Tebing Tinggi toll road that started operating last year, has employed 24,700 workers as of Tuesday, according to Jokowi.
Due to the pandemic's impacts on the economy, at least 3.7 million people have been left jobless, with unemployment projected to reach around 10 million people by the year-end, data from the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) shows.
Earlier this month, Public Works and Housing Minister Basuki Hadimuljono said the ministry would "transform" a number of regular infrastructure projects this year to employ 80,000 workers in labor intensive industries, in addition to its regular cash for a work program (PKT) that targeted to absorb more than 600,000 workers.
The ministry plans to disburse Rp 11.5 trillion for the PKT.
Speaking during the launch, Indonesian Toll Road Authority (BPJT) head Danang Parikesit said 648 km of the total trans-Sumatra toll road was in operation as of Tuesday, while some 514 km were still in the construction phase.
Danang further said that the entire Sigli-Banda Aceh toll road was expected to operate fully by December 2021.
"Our next priority is to extend the toll road toward Banda Aceh to connect the city with the Sultan Iskandar Muda [International] Airport. We will also connect other economic growth centers with the toll road, such as the industrial zone in Ladong and Malahayati seaport."