Work set to resume in May for southern Vietnam's longest expressway

By Giang Anh, Phuoc Tuan   March 14, 2023 | 01:30 am PT
Work set to resume in May for southern Vietnam's longest expressway
A section of Ben Luc - Long Thanh Expressway is under construction in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Chanh District. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Tung
Deputy Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha said Monday that all obstacles to the construction of the delayed Ben Luc-Long Thanh Expressway must be dealt with so construction can resume in May.

Ha said that the project had fallen behind schedule for three years and nine months, and that since he took the position of deputy prime minister two months ago, he has not seen any reports on the project’s progress, except for media stories about how delayed the project is.

The Ben Luc–Long Thanh Expressway runs 57.7 kilometers between Long An Province in the Mekong Delta and Dong Nai industrial hub, passing through Ho Chi Minh City. Once complete, it will be the longest highway in southern Vietnam.

Work started on the VND31 trillion plus ($1.34 billion) project in 2014 and it was initially set to be completed in five years. However, funding issues have delayed it several times.

The project is 81% complete; work has been stalled since 2019.

The expressway project uses investment loans from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the Asian Development Bank, and the Vietnamese government.

Explaining the tardiness, the investor, state-owned Vietnam Expressway Corp. (VEC), said that several construction packages have been stalled as contractors have refused to continue working on them due to investment fund issues, although the site clearance process has basically been completed.

Inspecting the section of the project in HCMC’s Binh Chanh District on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Ha said investment capital is no longer a problem, but rather administrative procedures.

"Related units must remove all obstacles related to procedures by April so that work on the project can resume in May, especially work on the two bridges along the expressway," said Ha.

The Commission for the Management of State Capital at Enterprises (CMSC) agreed in November 2021 for the VEC to use the toll fees it had collected temporarily and several other reserves to pay the debts it owes contractors.

"VEC earns money from toll collections on other expressways across the country, and that sum has been deposited at banks so it's not reasonable when it says it has no funds to build this [Ben Luc–Long Thanh Expressway]," Ha said on Monday. "That toll fee is also the state budget."

Last June, VEC asked for the government's permission to extend the project's completion deadline from 2023 to the third quarter of 2025. But four months later, the chairman of the National Assembly, Vietnam’s parliament, Vuong Dinh Hue said the project should be finished in 2024.

Hue said that the Ben Luc–Long Thanh Expressway is an important route of the Southern Key Economic Zone, which is comprised of HCMC and the seven provinces of Binh Phuoc, Tay Ninh, Binh Duong, Dong Nai, Ba Ria - Vung Tau, Long An and Tien Giang.

It will be connected to Dong Nai's Long Thanh Airport, which is under construction and will replace HCMC's Tan Son Nhat International Airport as Vietnam's biggest.

The four-lane expressway, which will have two emergency lanes, will allow a maximum speed of 100kph in its first phase. The road is expected to boost connections between the Mekong Delta and the rest of the southern region.

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