Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

By Nguyen Dong   January 26, 2024 | 03:17 pm PT
The La Son - Tuy Loan Expressway running through Da Nang and Thua Thien-Hue has only two lanes and no lampposts as it winds through foggy mountains above steep cliffs.
Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

Work started on La Son – Tuy Loan Expressway in 2013 under the build-operate format.

Costing VND11.5 trillion (US$466 million), the expressway is planned to stretch 77 km long and 22 m wide with four lanes.

On April 2022, its first phase was put into use with a length of 66 km, including 35 km in Thua Thien- Hue Province and the rest in Da Nang.

The section, however, has only two lanes spanning 12 m wide and there is no concrete median in between.

Many parts of the road run through winding and steep hills and mountains, and drivers complain that foggy weather in winter and spring limits their visibility.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

The highway passes through Bach Ma National Park in Thua Thien - Hue, where many sections pass over waterways, creating deep abysses on one side of the road.

At this section, in the past month, two accidents occurred about 20 meters apart.

There are no stops on the entire route to repair vehicles in case of problems.

On the afternoon of Jan. 24, when a large crane cleared the scene of a passenger bus that plunged off a cliff and fell into an abyss, other vehicles had difficulty passing through because part of the lane was given over to the crane.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

A crane puts what’s left of the 45-seat sleeper bus on a trailer.

The bus rolled over 3-4 times into the abyss after plunging off the expressway on the outskirts of Da Nang at 1:30 a.m. on Jan 23.

The accident killed two passengers and injured nine others, making it the most serious that has happened on the expressway since it entered service.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

A waterfall is located around 20 m from the site of the accident.

Authorities inspected the scene, and an initial investigation revealed that the driver showed signs of drowsiness. It was raining at the time of the incident, and fog was limiting visibility.

Reports by the Department for Roads of Vietnam and the Dak Lak Department of Transport said there was no data on the bus to ascertain its speed at the time of the accident. Quynh Huong company, which owns the bus, said the bus had not been using itinerary-tracking signals since Jan. 20.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

According to the Da Nang City Traffic Police Department, in the first two weeks of January, police handled nearly 70 cases of speed violations on the expressway.

Drivers said the La Son - Tuy Loan expressway has many sudden speed limits, which some section spans only 3-4 km long, making it difficult for them to drive as they have to constantly adjust speeds, which vary between 60-80 kph.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

At another area, the concrete embankment that rises 80 cm high is damaged after it was hit by a container truck late last month.

The truck also fell into the abyss below. The driver, luckily, only suffered slight injuries.

After that accident, the management unit did not fix the broken barriers but instead placed several concrete blocks next to the damaged ones, which only ended up narrowing the road.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

A section of the expressway through Da Nang's Hoa Vang District was damaged by a landslide caused by heavy rains.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

A truck moves through a section where the road is damaged and has yet to be repaired.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

Besides the Mui Trau tunnel, the entire expressway currently has no surveillance cameras. The telephone network in the area is also unstable, with no signal available along many sections of the expressway.

At a working session with the National Traffic Safety Committee on Jan. 23, Nguyen Thanh Binh, director of the Road Management Area No.3, which manages roads in the Central Highlands and central region, proposed installing lighting systems, surveillance cameras, and additional radio stations to serve search and rescue work.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

The only section of the expressway with four lanes.

Drivers often move at high speeds through the area to pass other vehicles, and then they have to quickly slow down when it turns into two lanes again.

Danger lurks on central Vietnam expressway

The expressway has no street lights, only reflective paint lines.

"If I have to go to Hue at night, I usually choose National Highway 1 instead of La Son - Tuy Loan Expressway because it is very dangerous," a driver said.

Currently, the whole country has five expressways with only two lanes. In February last year, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh said Vietnam should not invest in two-lane expressways anymore because they waste resources and time with their inevitably necessary upgrades and expansions.

La Son - Tuy Loan Expressway under construction in April 2021. Video by VnExpress/Vo Thanh
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