Investment hiccup strips major Mekong Delta expressway of emergency lane

By Staff reporters   January 21, 2022 | 01:34 am PT
Investment hiccup strips major Mekong Delta expressway of emergency lane
Vehicles travel on the Trung Luong - My Thuan Expressway after the inauguration ceremony on January 19, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Hoang Nam
An investor replacement along with funding issues have caused the extension to HCMC – Mekong Delta Expressway to open with no emergency lanes.

Trung Luong – My Thuan Expressway was inaugurated Wednesday before it is officially opened to traffic on Jan. 25.

The route links up with HCMC – Trung Luong Expressway in Chau Thanh District of Tien Giang Province and passes through five of the province's districts to join National Highway 30. Since it opened to traffic in 2010, HCMC - Trung Luong has been the only expressway linking the delta, home to around 20 million people, with the rest of the nation.

With Trung Luong – My Thuan put into service, the travel time from Ho Chi Minh City to Tien Giang will be shortened by 75 minutes to one hour and 45 minutes.

However, the extension, which stretches 51 kilometers (32 miles) long and 16 meters wide with 39 bridges and 14 overpasses in total, has no emergency lanes.

For now, it has only six emergency stops in each direction.

Chu Cong Minh, a doctor who specializes in traffic infrastructure at HCMC University of Technology under Vietnam National University - Ho Chi Minh City, said the emergency lane normally lies on the far right of the expressway.

This lane is usually narrower than other lanes to allow vehicles having trouble to immediately pull over and thus, reducing congestion and accidents. It also works as a priority lane for as ambulances, fire trucks and police.

Minh said emergency stops on the route could not replace the emergency lane.

For example, in case a car has an accident at a position far away from the emergency stops, the one behind it would likely become prone to an accident too.

The incident will also cause a long traffic jam, making it even more difficult to solve the original problem since ambulances and rescuers could not reach the scene in time.

"Once operating, Trung Luong – My Thuan Expressway will frequently experience heavy traffic density given its significant position as the bloodline route to connect HCMC and Mekong Delta. This means that just a small issue could lead to serious traffic gridlock," he said.

BOT Trung Luong - My Thuan JSC, the expressway’s builder, said the financial difficulty is the main reason the route is yet to have an emergency lane.

With construction started 13 years ago, the project had had to change investors twice, delay four times, and had its initial investment revised down to VND12 trillion ($528 million) from VND14 trillion after the government decided to adjust the investment scale following the replacement of the investor.

According to the Ministry of Transport, Trung Luong – My Thuan Expressway is the first to be invested under the public-private partnership format in southern Vietnam.

Due to financial problems, the project is divided into two phases.

In the first phase, it will have four lanes and no emergency stops, it said.

For the next phase, the expressway will be expanded on both sides to reach a scale of six lanes, with an emergency stop lane. However, this period has not been determined since it depends on traffic volume in the previous period.

Currently, several other expressway projects are also in the same position, with their investment process divided into different phases and operating with no emergency stop lanes, including Cao Bo - Mai Son Expressway in northern Ninh Binh Province, it said.

Phan Van Thang, deputy chairman of Deo Ca Group, which stepped in as the main investor of the project in 2019, said when the company took over, it was 10 percent complete.

The firm, therefore, had continued to work on the existing project and chose a new contractor.

"If we had worked on the project from the beginning, we would have proposed having the emergency stop lane," he said.

Director of Tien Giang Department of Transport Tran Van Bon said in addition to six emergency stops, the route has four intersections and vehicles in trouble will be removed from the expressway at the nearest intersection.

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