Fifty two years after the project was first mooted, construction of the Pan Borneo Highway has finally begun. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak launched the upgrading of an existing road to Bakun Dam from KM32 of the Bintulu-Miri trunk road yesterday, with Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem present, The Star reports. It will be toll-free, the PM said.

The project will be built in segments, starting from Tanjung Datu to Sematan, the 40 km stretch bringing road connectivity for the first time between the westernmost tip of Sarawak and the area represented by the Sarawak CM. This segment is scheduled for completion by the end of 2018.

Next up is the 740 km stretch from Sematan to Miri, which will begin construction in the third quarter of 2016, and is scheduled for completion in Q1 2023. The Sarawak portion from Tedungan to Merapok, sandwiched between Brunei, will see construction from early 2018 to early 2023.

The daily reports that the Pan Borneo Highway will mostly mirror the existing trunk road, and it involves the widening of the present three-metre wide single-carriageway into a dual-carriageway. Presently, the trunk road isn’t in good shape and requires major maintenance due to heavy usage. This means slow progress, estimated at 19 hours between Sematan and Miri.

Announced by the PM in Budget 2015, construction of the 1,663 km Pan Borneo Highway (936 km in Sarawak, 727 km in Sabah) would be fast-tracked under a public-private-partnership implementation model, with total cost estimated at RM27 billion. The highway is expected to bring economic benefits to the region. According to a Government study of Peninsular Malaysia’s North South Expressway, highway construction induces a multiplier effect of four times to the economy.