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updated 10/20/2010 12:01:30 PM ET 2010-10-20T16:01:30

The Malaysian government faced mounting opposition Wednesday to a $1.6 billion, 100-story skyscraper plan, with critics slamming the project as an unnecessary extravagance at a time of belt-tightening and rising prices.

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Prime Minister Najib Razak insists the privately financed building will boost business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's largest city, but the plan could hamper his ruling coalition's efforts to regain support from many who believe that public funds are regularly abused to help the government's allies grow wealthy.

More than 46,000 people had joined a Facebook group opposing the initiative as of late Wednesday, only five days after Najib first mentioned it while announcing the government's latest budget.

It is widely perceived to be a government project using taxpayers' contributions, but Najib said the tower will be part of a 5 billion ringgit ($1.6 billion) urban development initiative spearheaded by Permodalan Nasional Berhad, a government-backed fund management firm.

"This project is not a waste" of funds, Najib told a news conference late Tuesday. "We want a building that will become a symbol of a modern, developed country."

Najib noted that former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also faced resistance in the 1990s when he pushed for the 88-story Petronas Twin Towers, which were the world's tallest buildings for several years and are now a source of pride for many Malaysians.

Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman, chief executive of Permodalan Nasional, said Wednesday the company was well positioned to finance the construction from its own internally generated funds, the national news agency Bernama reported.

Opponents of the planned tower's construction — scheduled to start next year and be completed in 2015 — say there is already a glut of office space and that it would aggravate traffic jams.

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Criticism has been particularly sharp amid other revelations about high government spending. Parliament was told this week that the cost of a new palace being constructed for Malaysia's king was rising to nearly 800 million ringgit ($250 million), while the official travel expenses of Najib and his deputy surged about 60 percent in the past year.

Opposition leaders say such an expenditure is reckless when the government is cutting back on gasoline and sugar price subsidies for the public to rein in its budget deficit.

Complaints about alleged government corruption and financial mismanagement caused many voters to turn against the National Front ruling coalition in 2008 elections.

Najib took office last year and pledged wide-ranging reforms to help the ruling coalition regain a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which it enjoyed for most of its 53 years of uninterrupted rule, in the next elections due in 2013.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Skyscrapers around the world

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  1. Burj Khalifa

    Dubai's Burj Khalifa was debuted and renamed on Monday, Jan. 4, 2010. Burj Khalifa is the world's tallest building (2,717 feet), features the highest observation deck and was renamed after Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the ruler of neighboring Abu Dhabi who came to the aid of Dubai during the financial meltdown. (Matthias Seifert / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Two International Finance Center

    Hong Kong's Two ifc, designed by world-renowned architect Cesar Pelli, is 88 stories high. The massive tower was completed in 1998. (Richard A. Brooks / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Taipei 101

    Taiwan's Taipai 101 Tower stands 1,667 feet in height, and has more than 2.3 million square feet of office space, nearly 800,000 square feet of retail space, nearly 900,000 square feet of parking space and more than 1,800 vehicles. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Petronas Towers

    The Petronas Towers, also designed by Cesar Pelli, were completed in 1998. Two 88-story towers highlight the skyline of Kuala Lumur, Malaysia. The floors of the towers are shaped like eight-pointed stars, and a flexible bridge connects the spires at the 42nd floor. (Andrea Pistolesi / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Jin Mao Tower

    Shanghai's Jin Mao Tower is one of the tallest buildings in China.At 1,381 feet high, the building's design revolves around the number eight (considered to be one of the luckiest numbers in Chinese culture). Jin Mao Tower stands 88 stories, and its address is 88 Century Boulevard. (Andrew Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Willis Tower

    Perhaps better known as the Sears Tower, this Chicago building was renamed in 2009. The massive structure is the tallest building in North America, stands 110 stories high and features a famed Skydeck observatory that offers a view of the Windy City at 1,353 feet. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Shanghai World Financial Center

    The trapezoid opening high atop the 1,614-foot-tall Shanghai World Financial Center certainly makes the building memorable. In a nod to Chinese symbolism and to reduce wind pressure, the opening was originally going to be circular. Some protested the design, claiming it resembled the rising sun on Japan's flag, and the design was ultimately changed. Other notable buildings in China include the Nanjing Greenland Financial Center in Nanjing, China (1,476 feet) and Guangzhou West Tower in Guanzhou, China (1,435 feet). (James Leynse / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower

    The TV tower, currently under construction but set to be complete and fully operational for the 2010 Asian Games, will be the world's tallest TV tower. When finished, the Guangzhou TV & Sightseeing Tower will reach a height of about 2,000 feet. (China Photos via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Empire State Building

    More than 100 million visitors have taken in the awe-inspiring views from the Empire State Building's observation deck on the 86th floor since it opened to the public 79 years ago. The building is one of the most notable pieces of the Big Apple's skyline, and has the backdrop for several movies, including "King Kong," "An Affair to Remember" and "Sleepless in Seattle." (Rob Loud / Getty Images for Gotham Organization) Back to slideshow navigation
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Explainer: Engineering marvels

  • Julie Jacobson  /  AP
    Hoover Dam is framed in the newly completed by-pass bridge spanning the Colorado River.

    For most people, the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge, which opened to traffic today, will provide a convenient link between Nevada and Arizona. For Blaine Leonard, it could also help close the cognitive gap in the way people think about large-scale engineering projects in general.

    On the one hand, says the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), “People have an inherent curiosity about how things work and how they’re built. They want to know what makes them tick.”

    At the same time, he adds, people have a tendency to take infrastructure in general for granted: “Infrastructure is what makes our lives possible; it’s what makes travel possible.”

    With that in mind, here are nine new or soon-to-debut engineering and infrastructure projects that are worth a visit.

  • Beacon Hill Station and Tunnels

    Image: Beacon Hill Light Rail Station
    Sound Transit

    From the street, Seattle’s Beacon Hill Light Rail Station is little more than a boxy brick building fronted by four elevators. Step inside, though, and you quickly descend 160 feet to the underground station and the massive tunnels of the 16-mile Link Light Rail Line between SeaTac Airport and downtown. The station is filled with public art — internally lit sculptures loom overhead like microbes made large — while the tunnels themselves offer a testament to engineering technology. “It was a massive project that is, in some places, hidden beneath our feet,” says Leonard. “That makes it intriguing.” It also made the project a 2010 ASCE Award of Merit winner.

  • Concordia University Wisconsin

    Image: Concordia University Lakeshore
    Ken Cobb - JJR, LLC

    Sometimes the best engineering work is meant to go unseen. That’s the idea behind the Lakeshore Environmental Enhancement and Education Project at Concordia University in Mequon, Wis. The campus, which sits on 130-foot-high bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, was literally washing away — 20,000 tons of sediment per year — until it undertook a massive stabilization program involving 100,000 tons of rock, stone and vegetation. Today, visitors can experience a man-made, yet seemingly natural environment, visit a one-month-old environmental learning center and get a sense of why the site also received an ASCE Award of Merit this year.

  • CityCenter

    Image: Aria Hotel and Casino
    Laura Rauch  /  AP

    Now approaching its one-year anniversary, this 66-acre complex on the Las Vegas Strip still stands as the largest privately funded development project in U.S. history. And, perhaps, its most controversial. Design-wise, it’s a stunner, its expanses of curved glass and angled metal standing in marked, modernist contrast to the ersatz palazzos and theme-park motifs of its neighbors. Financially speaking, it’s been less successful: Conceived before the recession, it cost $8.7 billion to build, but was recently written down to $2.8 billion. A bum deal for shareholders, it’s a winning hand for visitors who can get a hotel room for as little as $109 per night.

  • Talking Water Gardens

    Image: Talking Water Gardens
    Heather Slocum

    Wastewater treatment isn’t glamorous, but according to Mike Wolski, it can be a beautiful thing. As assistant public works director for the city of Albany, Ore., Wolski is part of a public-private partnership that’s turning a crumbling industrial site into a 50-acre wetland that will cool treated wastewater in a setting marked by waterfalls, wildflowers and hiking trails. With construction set to be finished in December, the site will remain closed for another 12–18 months to foster revegetation and the return of wildlife. “There’s already a bald eagle out there, checking it out,” says Wolski.

  • High Line

    Image: New York City Approaches Record-High Temperatures
    Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images

    This elevated greenway in New York’s Meatpacking District wasn’t engineered so much as re-engineered. Originally built in the 1930s to get freight trains off city streets, it became a weed-choked eyesore after the trains stopped running in 1980. But instead of demolishing it, the city turned into it a long, skinny park, complete with native plantings, water features and open seating areas. The first half-mile section debuted in 2009 with a northern extension expected to open next year. Says Leonard, “They took a feature that had become a detraction and they’ve turned it into something that benefits the neighborhood.”

  • Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre

    Image: Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas
    Iwan Baan  /  AT&T Performing Arts Center

    Part of Dallas’ AT&T Performing Arts Center, the Wyly Theatre is the art world’s answer to Transformers: It can be quickly converted into a variety of configurations, based on the nature of each performance, through the use of a mechanical “superfly” system. The 600-seat venue, which was designed by Joshua Prince-Ramus and Rem Koolhaas, features a unique “stacked” design that positions support spaces above and below the hall, rather than around it. The result? A 12-level, glass-walled “theater machine” that’s a powerful dramatic presentation all by itself.

  • New River Gorge Bridge

    Image:
    Rick Barbero  /  The Register-Herald via AP

    Located outside Fayetteville, W.Va., the largest single-span steel-arch bridge in the Western Hemisphere is hardly new — it was completed in 1977 — but it now offers visitors a novel way to experience its impressive engineering: BridgeWalk, a guided walking tour along an inspection catwalk 850 feet above the river below. The tours ($69 per person) entail clipping into a safety cable and traversing a 24-inch catwalk underneath the bridge deck, all while enjoying panoramic views and bridge-design insights. “We’ve had kids, we’ve had retirees, we’ve had engineers,” says managing owner Benjy Simpson. “They get a chance to appreciate what this bridge is all about.”

  • Golden Gate Bridge/Doyle Drive

    Image: Golden Gate Bridge
    John G. Mabanglo  /  AFP

    Approaching its 75th anniversary (in 2012), the Golden Gate Bridge is truly an iconic structure; approaching the structure itself, however, can be an automotive nightmare. That should change with the projected 2014 completion of the Presidio Parkway. Replacing the seismically unstable Doyle Drive (Route 101) with a new parkway/tunnel system, the change will not only enhance traffic safety but also remove a longtime barrier between to two other San Francisco attractions: the Presidio and Crissy Field. “Making the connection between Crissy Field and the Presidio,” says David Shaw of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, “will help people visit both and better appreciate them as national parklands.”

  • World Trade Center

    Image: World Trade Center 7 building
    John Makely  /  msnbc.com

    When it comes to iconic infrastructure, no project carries more significance than the 16-acre site where the new World Trade Center is now taking shape. When completed (in 2015), the complex will include four glass towers, including the nation’s tallest building (1,776 feet); a museum dedicated to 9/11, and a transit center designed by Santiago Calatrava. In the meantime, a pair of memorial pools marking the footprints of the original Twin Towers is scheduled to open by September 11, 2011. “People want to go there, not just to see the site,” says Leonard, “but also to see how you build something while retaining the historic value and the sanctity of what happened there.”

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