Feb 28, 2012

How the Fort Canning Tunnel Altered our Road Landscape

Fort Canning Tunnel

If we do a poll on the most detested and ugliest structure in town among heritage lovers, I suspect the honor would go to this tunnel through Fort Canning Hill. That time I checked out Orchard Presbyterian Church to investigate the 1984 curry murder, I saw its exit at Penang Road for the first time since it opened in 2007. I was momentarily at a loss for words staring at this edifice. Just as surprised would be the ancient kings of Temasek who could not have imagined a tunnel cutting right into their sacred Bukit Larangan.

While the angst on the whole has to do with the demolition of our favorite red-bricked building, the "damage" to our heritage landscape is more insidious and I'm not sure if the younger generation is aware of that. The tunnel construction altered forever the road layout that was with us for decades: the part of Stamford Road skirting the foot of Fort Canning Hill in front of National Museum expunged; the road realigned on what was originally Queen Street next to historical Raffles Girls' site, which has the effect Queen Street still ends at Stamford Road; and a new Stamford Road to run between SMU Li Ka Shing Library and SMU School of Accountancy for it to meet Orchard Road which, by the way, is truncated into two by Handy Road and Bras Basah Road!

A morass of roads after the tunnel opening on 16 Jan 2007. Relocation of bus stops, new traffic scheme and a new ERP gantry were some of the confusions (source: LTA).

Fort Canning Tunnel
At only 350m, the Fort Canning Tunnel promises to cut a journey time from 5 minutes to as fast as 18 seconds. No doubt a win-win situation for the driver and this ERP gantry that welcomes you at the Penang Road exit.

The lines were so very much cleaner on a 1960s street directory and the names more meaningful. For example, Stamford Road followed the canal by the same name from its mouth at Esplanade Park to the fork at Fort Canning Road in front of the National Museum, at which point Orchard Road officially begins. Thankfully Orchard Road still begin at the same spot today.

However redevelopment of the Bras Basah precinct has altered some of the road layout in the area. You may not believe it, but the road Dhoby Ghaut, connecting Orchard-Penang Road junction to Prinsep Street, has been expunged. To make up for the loss of a connecting road from Stamford-Orchard Road to Prinsep Street, a road was forked out from Orchard Road opposite YMCA and named Orchard Road. Opposite the Presbyterian Church, Orchard Road was truncated from the main thoroughfare at Macdonald House by Handy Road which has been artifically extended.

The stretch of Waterloo Street adjoining Stamford Road was lost when SMU was built as a city campus. When folks thought SMU could save the old library building whose fate hung in the balance with the new Master Plan, its fate was sealed with the decision to cut a tunnel through Fort Canning Hill. From the subsequent realignment of Stamford Road, a geographical oddity arises that has escaped most of us.

What do you call the road between SMU School of Accountancy and SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business? Stamford Road. What about the stretch between Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and SMU Li Ka Shing Library? Apparently there is no consensus. The government tells us it is still Stamford Road (see LTA map above and 2012 SLA map below). and even the business school stick to Queen Street, which was its original name anyway. But wait, check out the address of the Cathedral - "A" Queen Street (S) 188533. How could the address be Queen Street when the road outside is Stamford Road? What does the "A" mean then? Some kind of Emeritus address for landmarks?

Bras Basah Area Comparison
Comparison of 1960s street directory and 2012 map from SLA. See how the Bras Basah precinct has changed in over 40 years.


pinto said...

I hate that tunnel.

Icemoon said...

It does look ugly. Perhaps they should have built it KPE style.

Lam Chun See said...

Gahmen always talk about 'thinking out of the box'. In the end they displayed 'tunnel vision'.

Here's what I wrote in pg 151 of my book, Good Morning Yesterday ..

"A few years ago, when the government decided to demolish this iconic red-brick building, it received many objections from older Singaporeans. To this day, many of us have not forgiven the authorities for the characteristically high-handed manner in which they ignored our views and went ahead to replace our beloved National Library with an ugly hole in the ground called the Fort Canning Tunnel."

Icemoon said...

that's a good one - "thinking out of box" to "tunnel vision".

it was made worse as most people expected the building to be saved, by SMU at least. the greatest joke was that they renovated the library just a few years before ...

Slamdunk said...

our govt will never admit that this ugly and useless tunnel was a mistake...

do you think in 20 years' time, will there be the same regret when we look back at how the authority defied public opinion in destroying bukit brown with a 4-lane stretch of road?

Icemoon said...

In 20 years time the land might have been cleared to make way for high-rises; the 4-lane road will be minuscule compared to them.

Pat said...

Come to think of it, I've never travelled through, or even approached that tunnel before. It just doesn't seem inviting.

From post: "check out the address of the Cathedral - "A" Queen Street (S) 188533.[...] What does the "A" mean then? Some kind of Emeritus address for landmarks?"

LOL ... esp. since it's "A" -- as opposed to any ol' A. Incidentally, there is no "B" Queen Street landmark in the vicinity.

Other than SG's tunnel-minded propensity to hunger after A (grades, that is), might "A" be an allusion to the fact that most of the church's diocesan priests have first names beginning with "A" ?

Btw the address of the church is also (& much more frequently) listed as "4 Queen Street".

Icemoon said...

You are right, I have seen some websites use 4 Queen Street too. The official Catholic website, Veritas, uses "A" Queen Street. The Rector is Rev Fr Adrian Anthony.

I just discovered another privileged street address. The Istana has address "Orchard Road Singapore 238823"!