Malaysia says it's proceeding with new bridge to Singapore to avoid higher costs

Malaysia plans to build a bridge halfway across the waterway separating it from Singapore, even though its neighbor hasn't agreed to build the other half, because it wants to avoid higher construction costs in the future, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Sunday.

"We are making the necessary preparations to build it," Abdullah was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama.

Abdullah said rising construction costs prompted Malaysia to award a contract Thursday to build its half of the bridge following years of delay. Construction is expected to start next month and be completed in about three years.

Singapore hasn't decided whether to build its portion of the bridge, but Malaysian officials have said the bridge's design will allow the city-state to link up later. Singapore says it is still evaluating the project's economic impact.

The bridge would replace the 1.06-kilometer (0.66-mile) causeway that links the neighbors across the Straits of Johor. More than 100,000 people cross the causeway each day, and Malaysian officials have said a new bridge would ease congestion and boost the flow of trans-Straits traffic.

The project had been part of an earlier deal that included contentious talks on Malaysia's supply of water to Singapore, but negotiations for that stopped in 2002 without an agreement on the bridge design.

The neighbors have a history of spats but enjoy close economic and cultural ties, AP reported. V.A.

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