HCMC national highway section awaits much-needed expansion

By Gia Minh   February 12, 2022 | 01:00 am PT
HCMC national highway section awaits much-needed expansion
Traffic jam on National Highway 13 in Thu Duc City in late 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh
A National Highway 13 section has been functioning as an arterial route inside and outside HCMC for decades, causing overload and traffic jams in urgent need of easing.

In the days just before and after the Lunar New Year holiday, which lasted nine days from Jan. 29 to Feb. 6, a section of the highway that runs through Binh Thanh District and Thu Duc City repeatedly experienced traffic congestion.

At some point, cars and buses were stuck in a tailback that stretched as long as 2km (1.24 miles) in Thu Duc while thousands of motorbikes tried to weave their way through the crowd.

National Highway 13 links HCMC with Binh Duong, a major industrial hub in the southern region.

Apart from being the main road linking the eastern part of the city with its center, the highway also connects to the Mien Dong bus station that carries passengers to and from localities to HCMC's southeastern neighbors, and northern and central regions. Given such a position, congestion is a frequent occurrence on the route.

"Traffic jams mostly occur at the Binh Trieu intersection which lies near the North-South railway. Every time the train goes back and forth, there are serious traffic jams," said Van Quan, a truck driver.

He said it has often taken him more than two hours to drive over 20 km from Thu Dau Mot Town in Binh Duong Province to HCMC's center because of traffic jams.

In Binh Duong Province, the highway has already been renovated and expanded to have eight lanes, but the HCMC section has four to six lanes.

The 5-km section of the highway in Thu Duc City was built in 2001 under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) investment model. The Ministry of Construction's Civil Engineering Construction Corporation No.5 JSC (Cienco 5) was the investor.

In early 2018, the HCMC's administration signed a contract with HCMC Infrastructure Investment Joint Stock Company (CII) to carry out a VND2.3 trillion ($101.5 million) BOT project to upgrade routes around the Mien Dong Bus Station, including the National Highway 13.

However, the project could not be carried out as a resolution issued by the Standing Committee of the National Assembly, Vietnam’s parliament, regulated that all projects carried out under the BOT format must be suspended and switched to using the state budget.

In 2019, CII submitted to the city a five year (2019-2023) investment plan for a VND10 trillion project to upgrade National Highway 13 section running through Thu Duc City. However, the project remains on paper.

Expanding the National Highway 13 is "critical" given the increasing traffic flow on the road, said Tran Chi Trung, head of the planning-investment office under the HCMC's Transport Department.

The department has already formulated a plan to upgrade the section in the 2021-2015 period, but capital has remained its biggest roadblock, he added.

He said the center has approved HCMC spending VND142 trillion ($6.28 billion) of the state budget for its medium-term public investment plan in the 2021-2025 period, but this sum is not enough for the city to include the highway section upgrade.

"The city has proposed to the central government to expand the allocation with an additional VND119 trillion. Once this is approved, the city will have more investment funds to cover work to upgrade National Highway 13," Trung said.

The city has said it plans to spend VND1.5 trillion this year on upgrading sections of National Highways 13 and 50, the latter a pathway connecting HCMC with the Mekong Delta which has been degraded and usually suffers gridlock.

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