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Indonesia Mulls Plans To Relocate Capital City

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JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia's president has a solution for the country's overcrowded, gridlocked and flood-prone capital: Move it.

"If we're honest, objective, Jakarta is no longer ideal," says Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has dispatched teams as far off as the jungle-clad island of Borneo to look for alternative sites.

Past proposals to relocate the capital, a project that could cost this developing nation as much as $11 billion, have gone nowhere, and this one may well meet a similar fate. What is clear, experts say, is that something needs to be done before the city of 10 million bursts at the seams.

Waist-high water blocks roads and inundates homes during the rainy season, sometimes causing dozens of deaths by electrocution.

With more than 500 new cars and 1,500 motorbikes added every day to the 6.7 million vehicles already on the road, traffic moves at less than 6 miles (10 kilometers) an hour, turning short hops across town into two-hour crawls.

That's costing Jakarta – the largest city in the world without a subway – at least $1.4 billion a year in lost time and fuel, said Yopie Hidayat, a government spokesman.

The creation of high-occupancy traffic lanes has actually made matters worse.

Drivers stop to buy passengers known as "jockeys" so they can use the designated lanes.

"It's terrible, if you don't want to get stuck, you really have no choice but to take one," said commuter Yahya Irwandi, referring to a long line of young men and mothers cradling children on the side of the road, their index fingers pointing high into the air.

The boys hop into Yahya's car, pocketing a dollar each, allowing him to scoot into the still painfully slow three-in-one lane.

The city's dilapidated infrastructure, some dating from the Dutch colonial era a century ago, is crumbling.

Earlier this month, a 300-foot (100-meter) section of four-lane highway fell into a river in north Jakarta. On the opposite side of town, a 375-foot (125-meter) embankment on one of dozens of canals built almost a century ago to provide relief from flooding came tumbling down.

Several other countries have moved their capitals – Brazil, Pakistan, Malaysia and Myanmar to name a few – for reasons ranging from political to economic.

Indonesia has been thinking about it on and off for more than a half-century.

Sukarno, Indonesia's first president, suggested relocating to Borneo, in part because he wanted development across the country's 17,000 islands to be more evenly distributed.

He also recognized that Jakarta, initially a sleepy port town, wasn't going to hold up over time.

His successor, military strongman Suharto, pushed for Jonggol, a region 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of Jakarta, before his ouster amid pro-democracy street protests in 1998.

Yudhoyono is considering both locations, though he knows even if the ball gets rolling now, a new capital won't be functioning for at least another decade – well after his presidency expires, said Velix Wanggai from the presidential office.

Sonny Harry Harmadi, director of the Demography Institute at Indonesia University, favors a move.

"Just ask Jakarta's government, whether they are able to solve the (congestion) problem in five years," he said. "If no, then move it."

But Wendell Cox, an expert on urban policy and transportation with the consultancy Demographia, noted even if Indonesia creates a new capital, Jakarta itself may remain a business center with explosive population growth.

Packing up, he said, would be "a waste of money that could be much more effectively used to solve more pressing problems" such as poverty reduction.

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