Construction sites on Saigon roads pave path to ruin for businesses

By Gia Minh   August 31, 2020 | 10:29 pm PT
Construction sites on Saigon roads pave path to ruin for businesses
Workers at the construction site on Dien Bien Phu Street in Binh Thanh District, August 2020. Photos by VnExpress/Gia Minh.
More than 100 construction sites on HCMC roads are not just wreaking traffic havoc and disrupting daily lives, they are destroying local businesses.

The last three months have been bad for business, but restaurant owner Thai Kim Phung is not blaming the Covid-19 pandemic.

Phung’s street front restaurant has a good location, close to the intersection of Dien Bien Phu and Nguyen Huu Canh Streets, close to Landmark 81, Vietnam’s tallest building, and several colleges.

Phung, who had opened her restaurant at such a prime location in October last year, was not prepared for workers coming and setting up barriers around an area of Nguyen Huu Canh.

Several months later, the barriers stretched to the section right in front of her restaurant, blocking its facade and delivering noise and dust in huge quantities.

Phung has seen her customer numbers drop steeply over the past three months. There have been days when patrons could be counted on the fingers of one hand. The restaurant owner cannot afford the rent anymore.

"I spend VND35 million (more than $1,500) each month to stay here and run the restaurant at the same time, but in recent months, my earnings have dropped by more than 50 percent. I’m thinking about renting another venue because I am unable to earn enough to cover the rent here."

Looking at the metal sheets rising two meters high in front of her restaurant, Phung said the construction unit has removed barriers and cleaned up the street once they finished fixing a section, but because the restaurant sits way too close to the construction site, there is no way it can escape the dust and the noise.

She said it’s not just her business that has been affected but her family’s daily activities as well.

"The real misery comes when it rains heavily. This area is seriously flooded and along with the barriers and building materials, things get really messy."

Just three kilometers away from Phung’s restaurant, vehicles stay in line and move inch by inch to pass another construction site stretching more than 300 meters on Luong Dinh Cua Street in District 2.

The barrier splits the street by half and the work has caused part of it to subside, creating a puddle that stinks. And to avoid it, cars and motorbikes squeeze into the part with no water, worsening the traffic jam, causing some to fall down on the street.

A line of traffic congestion next to a barrier covering a construction site on Tran Nao Street of District 2.

Traffic congestion next to a barrier erected by a construction site on Luong Dinh Cua Street of District 2.

Loan, a resident of Luong Dinh Cua Street, said: "When it is sunny, dust is all over the place and when it rains, the street gets all muddy, and stays that way for days. It is not just a problem for traffic flow but for people doing business in this area. Some have had to shut down due to a lack of customers."

Chaos, death

On Tran Nao Street that crosses Luong Dinh Cua, a construction site takes up a lot of space. At many sections, barriers make up more than half of the street, leaving just enough space for one car to move, including the area near the intersection of both streets.

Mai, owner of a grocery store on Tran Nao, said that the "bunker" forces vehicles to constantly change lanes and turn around, creating chaos.

In March, a man riding a motorbike tried to avoid the barrier and ended up killing himself by crashing into a truck, she recalled.

Official data shows that as of end of July, Ho Chi Minh City had 123 construction sites scattered around 60 streets, an increase of 37 over June.

District 2 alone has 30 such sites to carry out large-scale projects that have been going on for years, including the metro line No.1 and another to fix water pollution and drainage in the city.

In District 7, four construction sites have just come up at the intersection of Nguyen Van Linh and Nguyen Huu Tho Streets and on Huynh Tan Phat Street to upgrade a sewer system.

District 8 has as many as 18 sites, eight of them on Pham The Hien Street.

Working as a guard at a store on the street, Nguyen Trung Hieu, 58, said the construction site at the crossroads of Pham The Hien and Cao Lo has existed for two years and no one can tell when it will be removed.

Traffic is squeezed and all vehicles struggle, he said.

"Residents here are really upset, but we’ve had no choice but to get along with these construction sites somehow," he said, adding he has seen inspectors come and fine contractors for their carelessness many times.

Motorbikes and autos pass by a construction site on Pham The Hien Street in District 8.

Motorbikes and cars squeeze past a construction site on Pham The Hien Street in District 8.

Tran Quoc Khanh, chief inspector of HCMC Transport Department, said that in the first six months this year, his department had handled 279 violations and fined contractors more than VND1.7 billion (over $73,100) for errors in the construction process.

In July alone, inspectors had warned contractors at 113 sites about the shoddy work they were doing. In most cases, the barriers they erect do not meet required safety standards. Khanh said repeat violations will attract the strictest punishment including revoking of the project’s license.

Apart from violations, some projects have fallen way behind schedule, subjecting residents and commuters to prolonged misery.

Khanh said that to try and reduce the impacts of street construction sites on daily life, the department has since 2018 issued licenses in a way that avoids the situation of a street section being fenced up for a new project when it has just been freed from one.

This has not brought much relief, though.

Grocery owner Mai gave voice to the residents and commuters affected by the construction sites on the city’s roads when she said people were just desperate for the projects to be completed soon so that traffic can flow normally again and their daily lives can return to normal, too.

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