The polemic behind the freeing of Suramadu toll road

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Suhendra Ratu Prawiranegara
Public Infrastructure Observer

IO – The Government has made a decision relating to the Suramadu toll bridge: the bridge is now toll-free. As we know, President Joko Widodo, together with several ministers, governors, and other officials directly announced the suspension of Suramadu Bridge tolls right on the bridge itself on Saturday, 27 October 2018. The announcement was covered by the mass media, both print and electronic, both national and local in East Java.

Within hours after President Joko Widodo made the announcement of toll suspension, the public was divided with various opinions, whether for or against the decision. On the day of the announcement, the author was also requested to participate in a live broadcast by Kompas TV as a source of discussion about the government policy to eliminate Suramadu Bridge tolls.

The author frankly believes that the suspension of the Suramadu Bridge toll is unusual and uncommon. Why? Because this is the first time it has happened in Indonesia. The act gives rise to thoughts and analysis from various perspectives, mainly a review of the rules and regulations that cover Highways and Toll Roads in Indonesia, including Suramadu Bridge. We refer to Law Number 38 of 2004, concerning Roads, and Government Regulation Number 15 of 2005, concerning Toll Roads and their amendments, the latest being Government Regulation Number 30 of 2017 concerning a Third Amendment to Government Regulation Number 15 of 2005.

Definition of “Toll Road” and its Correlation with the history of Suramadu
Suramadu Bridge was inaugurated on 10 June 2009 by President SBY. This longest island-to-island bridge in Southeast Asia (5.4 km) was first conceived by Prof. Dr. Ir. Sedyatmo decades ago. President Soekarno responded to the idea by putting it as part of the Tri Nusa Bimasakti Project, which was a project meant to connect the major islands of Sumatra, Java, Madura, and Bali. In 1986, the Technology Review and Application Agency (Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi – “BPPT”) reviewed the idea by holding a seminar about undersea tunnels and long-stretch bridges to formulate the technical concept, engineering, and design of the Java-Sumatra (Jawa-Sumatera – “Jawasuma”) bridge, the Java-Bali bridge, and the Java-Madura bridge.

During President Soeharto’s era, Presidential Decree Number 55 of 1990 covered the Surabaya-Madura Bridge Construction Project, along with the development of the Kertosusila Gate area. Later, during the reign of Megawati, the fifth President of RI, the groundbreaking and inauguration of the Suramadu Bridge construction was held. In order to support the smoothness of the construction, President Megawati issued Presidential Decree Number 79 of 2003 concerning the Construction of the Surabaya-Madura Bridge.

The crucial steps were performed during the reign of President SBY. In this era, the funding scheme for the construction of the Suramadu Bridge was a huge concern for the government. How could it be not? At this time, the government, especially the Department of Public Works (Pekerjaan Umum – “PU”), was given the hard mandate of completing the construction of the bridge. The Government finally secured a foreign loan scheme to fund the Rp 5.4-trillion mega project, i.e. from the Government of China. Getting this foreign loan was frankly far from easy, because the requirements were quite strict. This necessitated repeated negotiations for funding.

During the construction, there were also many challenges and obstacles. The condition and high corrosiveness of seawater, strong currents, high wind speed, a large number of mines left over from the wars, the use of Cable Stayed Bridge advanced technology, as well as social handicaps (especially securing required land from local residents) as well as political handicaps. There are many people who tried to take political advantage of the situation.

Road Law Number 38 of 2004 defines “toll roads” as “paid roads, wherein the users of the toll roads shall be imposed with a specific tariff when crossing the toll road.” From the start, transit over Suramadu Bridge meant one had toll rates imposed. What does this mean? It means that Suramadu Bridge will be relevant with laws or regulations relating to the implementation of highways and toll roads in Indonesia, i.e. Law No. 38 of 2004, Government Regulation No. 15 of 2005, and its amending Government Regulation, i.e. No. 30 of 2017. We can simply say and interpret that Suramadu must be related to the imposition of toll fees.

The Impact of Eliminating Toll Fees
The implementation of the Suramadu Bridge toll fees was decided even before the bridge was in operation, based on various factors and considerations that were calculated thoroughly by the government at the time. The toll fees were not implemented suddenly and whimsically. Various in-depth studies were made for the purpose, with the primary conclusion that it would help cover the huge amounts required to maintain this structure (some sources stated that it reaches up to Rp 100 billion a year).

Technically, the government, through the Department of PU (at the time) has considered the many factors that may potentially damage the bridge. These include the high corrosiveness of seawater, the high velocity of wind, and the constant traffic passing over the bridge. These factors must be controlled and monitored constantly by experienced professionals.

When Suramadu Bridge was about to be opened, there were objections and concerns from the providers of sea crossing from Ujung Harbor in Surabaya to Kamal Harbor in Madura. This concern is reasonable, because the bridge would naturally reduce the traffic and load of such crossings. This is why the government at the time imposed a toll rate on Suramadu Bridge with the purpose of covering maintenance expenses, as well as maintaining the operation of alternative means of sea transportation. The question is now, “What is the fate of the sea crossing businesses in Madura Straits if the Suramadu Bridge toll fees are eliminated?” We can predict a major, if not complete, paralysis of Surabaya-Madura sea transport.

Furthermore, the government needs to prepare a legal basis for the construction of the Suramadu Bridge mega project. President Megawati has issued Presidential Decree No. 79 of 2003 to cover the first foundation groundbreaking and the initial construction of the project, while President SBY issued Presidential Regulation No. 27 of 2008. These two legal bases of Suramadu Bridge regulated not only the technical execution and the responsibility of all related parties during construction, but also regulated substantial issues relating to the empowerment of the local residents, the development, and the zoning of Madura Island. They prepared the organization of the zoning in both the Surabaya and Madura ends of the Bridge. Potential investments in the property and trade sectors were prepared with the allocation of 600-Ha area each. Even though the Suramadu Toll Rates are suspended, these areas are not optimized properly by either the government or other parties.

Ironically, Presidential Regulation No. 98 of 2018 (according to the statement by the Toll Road Regulation agency (Badan Pengatur Jalan Tol – “BPJT”) of the Ministry of Public Works and People’s Housing (Pekerjaan Umum dan Perumahan Rakyat – “PUPR”), which is the basis of eliminating the toll rates, has changed the status of Suramadu Bridge into a public road. This is counterproductive and in conflict with earlier legal codicils that covered the Suramadu, as the clauses of Presidential Regulation No. 98 of 2018 “revokes or cancels” the regulations expressed both in Presidential Decree No. 79 of 2003 and Presidential Regulation No. 27 of 2008.