Highway linking HCMC with neighbors puts commuters at risk

By Gia Minh, Phuoc Tuan   October 13, 2022 | 06:00 am PT
Highway linking HCMC with neighbors puts commuters at risk
A section of National Highway 1K near the My Phuoc - Tan Van Intersection is covered with dust, October 12, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh
Connecting Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong and Dong Nai, National Highway 1K lacks traffic lights and is normally covered in dust, impeding visibility.

On the morning of Wednesday, a section of National Highway 1K near the My Phuoc – Tan Van intersection in Binh Duong Province appeared in its now normal state: lines of trucks, the loud noise of horns, and polluted air.

Living by the highway, Thanh, 50, said her daily chores include splashing water in front of the house dozens of times, which still fails to save her furniture from the dust.

The area near the intersection is home to many warehouses, industrial parks and a quarry and with Dong Nai and Binh Duong being major industrial hubs and HCMC the country's economic hub, the route, therefore, must serve trucks with large loading capacity almost around the clock.

Many of the trucks are not properly covered, causing soil and rocks to fall onto the street.

Besides, the highway has many downgraded sections where the surface of the street is broken, resulting in even more dust.

Sometimes the dust is so thick it affects driver visibility, leading to accidents.

"Two years ago when there was still toll collection, the highway was frequently cleaned up and maintained but ever since the collection stopped, it has been increasingly degraded and accidents happen all the time," said Thanh.

Apart from the dust, the lack of traffic lights along the highway is another threat for commuters.

At the meeting points of the highway with Lo O and Thong Nhat streets in Binh Duong, the traffic light system has been broken for a long time and drivers must fend for themselves.

"The situation is most serious at the intersection with Street No.9 that leads to HCMC.

"As there are no traffic lights, drivers would cross the street as they wish. Apart from a high risk for accidents, it causes the intersection to suffer frequent, heavy traffic jams," said a truck driver named Van Thang, 35.

Drivers cross the street as they wish as there is no traffic light at the intersection of National Highway 1K and Street No.9, October 12, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

Drivers cross the street as they wish as there is no traffic light at the intersection of National Highway 1K and Street No.9, October 12, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Minh

Meanwhile, the toll booths along the highway, after stopping operation in 2020, have now become barriers blocking the street and causing congestion.

National Highway 1K runs 21 kilometers from Linh Xuan Intersection in HCMC’s Thu Duc City through Binh Duong until it meets National Highway 1 in Dong Nai Province.

With a width of 20-23 meters, it stretches two kilometers in HCMC and five kilometers in Binh Duong.

Every day, it serves tens of thousands of vehicles.

A project to upgrade the highway was finished 15 years ago under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) format. By then, two toll gates were set up in Dong Nai and Binh Duong. In October 2020, the investor finished recovering capital and stopped collecting the toll fee.

However, the toll booths have not been removed until now as authorities and the investor have not completed administrative procedures.

"Ever since the toll collection stopped, it is very dangerous when driving through the area near those booths at night as there is no light," said a local woman named Tran Thi Phuong, 54.

Phuong said she had seen many cars hitting median strips placed at the booths at night.

In 2021, 15 accidents were recorded along the highway section in Binh Duong, killing six and injuring 14. In the first half of this year, there were 14 cases including four fatalities and 10 injuries.

For the section in HCMC, four accidents from late 2021 to September this year killed three people.

Authorities in Binh Duong and HCMC have proposed the Ministry of Transport allow them to operate and manage the section of National Highway 1K in their localities so they could take initiative to fix and maintain the route.

However, Nguyen Thanh Thuan, deputy director of Binh Duong's Transport Department, said the BOT contract that the Department for Roads of Vietnam under the Transport Ministry signed with the private investor to upgrade the highway has not been settled, meaning the proposal could therefore not be approved.

"We have proposed the ministry come up with solutions to remove the toll gates and repair the traffic light system but so far, the ministry has not replied," he said.

Nguyen Van Thanh, head of the road administration unit No.4 under the Department for Roads of Vietnam, which oversees managing road projects in southern and south-central Vietnam, said the unit has taken over the highway since 2020.

He said in the past two years, the unit has maintained the highway more than a few times but due to a limit of funding, some issues have not been handled thoroughly.

Regarding the two toll gates, Thanh confirmed that the unit has not finished procedures on the financial settlement with the private investor and that the booths would be removed as soon as those procedures are completed.

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