Lack of roads a roadblock for southeast Vietnam

By Truong Ha   November 23, 2020 | 07:58 pm PT
Lack of roads a roadblock for southeast Vietnam
HCMC-Long Thanh-Dau Giay Expressway which connects HCMC and Dong Nai Province, September 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Phuoc Tuan.
A lack of regional connectivity and overload at major gateways is preventing Vietnam's southeast from reaching its full potential, officials and experts agree.

Their concurrence was expressed at a Sunday conference that looked at ways to boost traffic infrastructure development in the southeast region, which includes Ho Chi Minh City, the industrial hubs of Dong Nai and Binh Duong, and the provinces of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Tay Ninh and Binh Phuoc.

The region is suffering "serious congestion on all transportation routes by land, air and sea," Tran Dinh Thien, member of the prime minister’s economic advisory group, said at the meeting that gathered nearly 200 experts and top officials of six regional provinces and relevant state agencies.

He said the south-eastern region, along with the entire Southern Key Economic Zone (SKEZ), which comprises the six localities plus the Mekong Delta provinces of Long An and Tien Giang, has by far "the most exceptional, because with its outstanding internal resources, it has contributed more than half of the nation's economic growth, bigger than the remaining three zones (northern, central and Mekong Delta zones) combined."

However, the growth rate of the SKEZ has declined in recent years, and its role as the driving force of the nation’s economy has weakened over time, Thien said.

The zone’s economic growth had been 1.5 times higher than the national growth rate, but it dropped to 6.6 percent in the 2016-2018 period, equal to that of the nation, according to the government's official data.

The reasons are the lack of regional connectivity, a shortage of ring roads and expressways, the slow implementation of approved traffic projects, and mismatches among traffic junctions of HCMC, Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Dong Nai, the meeting heard.

The Tan Son Nhat International Airport, currently the nation’s biggest, has been overloaded for years while the Cai Mep-Thi Vai International Port in Ba Ria-Vung Tau lacks connection to roads and railways, Thien said.

Pham Viet Thanh, Party chief of Ba Ria-Vung Tau, said the southeast has been playing a decisive role in contributing to economic growth of the whole country and making up around 60 percent of the national budget contribution, annually.

The region is the only one that meets all the conditions and advantages to take the lead in industrialization and modernization, Thanh said.

It has the advantage of being one of the 20 best places for deep-water port development in the world, and by 2025, when the Long Thanh International Airport begins operations in Dong Nai Province, it will open up new spaces for economic development and create new growth opportunities, he said.

However, the region is suffering now from an overloaded, congested traffic infrastructure, lack of proper investment as well as the absence of synchronous and sustainable connections.

Tran Hoang Ngan, head of the HCMC Institute for Development Studies (HIDS), said in the 2016-2020 period, the southeast has earned an estimated VND2,600 trillion ($111.5 billion) in budget collection, but in return, it has been provided just VND670 trillion for infrastructure development. That is "an unreasonable figure," Ngan said.

All localities in the region have capable leaders, but the "money problem" is the biggest obstacle in tacking issues related to the traffic infrastructure, he said.

HCMC and other localities in the region can source some investment on their own for developing intra-provincial and inter-regional transport systems, but for this to happen in a coordinated manner, the question of which locality benefits more from a connectivity project can become a thorny issue, Ngan said.

A representative of the Ministry of Transport said that development plans were in place for the southeast region, but implementation has been way too slow. It is planned that the region will have 11 expressways stretching more than 970 km (602 miles). Of this, 497 km was to be opened to traffic this year, but just 122 km of the roads have been completed.

Greater leeway

Ngan suggested that the government increases the budget retention rate for localities in the region and allows local authorities to decide on all investment projects that are in line with the master development plan approved by the government. Priority should be given to the four localities of HCMC, Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau, he said.

HCMC leaders have for long lamented the low budget retention. The city is allowed to keep just 18 percent of its annual revenue and has to submit the rest to the national budget. This is the lowest budget retention rate of all cities in the world, they have noted.

Ngan also wanted the government to grant HCMC special mechanisms to start work on building the Tan Son Nhat airport’s third terminal this year. For now, the PM has agreed to a VND10.99 trillion ($472 million) investment for building a terminal. Construction is expected to begin next October and be completed in mid-2023.

Another major project that needs to be executed within this year is the 3.8-km Cat Lai Bridge to replace the ferry linking Dong Nai and HCMC over the Soai Rap River. The project was approved in 2019, but there has been no mention of a specific date for work to start.

Thien, member of the PM’s economic advisory group, said the southeast region’s underdeveloped traffic infrastructure was an issue that has existed for a long time and it was high time that a new approach is adopted to resolve it.

Failure to do so will not only restrain the competitive capacity of the region, but of Vietnam as a whole, he said.

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