The construction of Vietnam’s highways was planned in the 2000s in the context of the deterioration of the transnational highway system, the lack of a highway system to connect the HCMV commercial hub to the agricultural and aquaculture hub of the Mekong Delta and to neighboring localities.
In December 2004, work began on the country’s first highway, the HCMV-Trung Luong highway. Stretching for 61 km (38 miles), the highly anticipated VND 9.88 billion ($ 433.6 million) project was financed by official development assistance (ODA) loans.
After six years, the project was completed, reducing the travel time from HCMC to Tien Giang Province from 90 to 30 minutes and helping to reduce traffic jams along National Highway 1A through Long An Province.
It is still to this day the only highway to connect HCMC and the Mekong Delta.
Trung Luong – The My Thuan Expressway, the extension of the HCMC – Trung Luong road, is under construction in Tien Giang province, in January 2021. Photo by VnExpress / Quynh Tran
In 2006, the first highway in the north, Cau Gie – Ninh Binh, was built with ODA loans to link Hanoi and the neighboring province of Ninh Binh, thus facilitating traffic at the southern entrance to the capital.
Following the efficiency of the first two highways and the urgent need to invest in traffic infrastructure for socio-economic development, the government approved in 2008 a master plan for the development of a network of highways up to ‘in 2020 with a vision until 2020. The plan included 22 highways. projects with a total length of 5,873 km.
In January 2011, the 11th Party Congress passed a resolution which identified many limitations in the traffic infrastructure system that constituted a bottleneck for the nation’s development. The resolution said investment in the highway system was an important driving force for the country’s progress. It has set itself the goal of having 2,000 km of motorways by 2020.
However, Vietnam has only completed construction of 1,163 km (723 miles) of highways, with 89 km open to traffic by 2010 and 1,074 km by 2020.
Construction is underway for an additional 916 km, with the completion target set for 2023.
The Ministry of Transport estimates the speed of highway construction in Vietnam at 74 km per year on average, just 1.5% of that in China.
Explaining the slow progress, the ministry cited the country’s limited financial resources, saying that the state budget can only cover investments for the renovation and modernization of the national road network. This is why several highways before 2010 were built with ODA loans, he said.
Tran Chung, president of the Vietnam Association of Road Traffic Investors, also said that before 2015 the budget was limited and it was not easy to access ODA loans. The policy framework for attracting private investment in public projects had not been completed, which created difficulties in the implementation of highway projects.
Over the period 2010-2015, the investment policy in the form of public-private partnership (PPP) was strengthened, allowing the government to further start work on motorways in the BOT (build-operate-transfer) format, including four in the north: Hoa Lac – Hoa Binh, Thai Nguyen – Cho Moi, Bac Giang – Lang Son; and the Trung Luong – My Thuan highway in the south, which is also an extension of the HCMC – Trung Luong highway.
However, private investors have encountered problems with PPP mechanisms.
For example, the Hanoi – Hai Phong highway was completed in 2015, but over 4.7 trillion dong ($ 206 million) that the state had committed to the project has yet to be released. paid to investor, Vietnam Infrastructure Development and Financial Investment Joint-Stock Company.
In a similar situation, the investor of the Deo Ca tunnel, which connects the central provinces of Khanh Hoa and Phu Yen, has not received the VND 1.18 trillion pledged by the state since its completion in 2017.
Part of the Noi Bai – Lao Cai highway that connects Hanoi with Lao Cai province, home to the tourist town of Sa Pa, in November 2021. Photo by VnExpress / Giang Huy
In addition to slow progress and difficulties in attracting private investment, Vietnam’s highway network is not evenly distributed across regions. It remains limited in the Mekong Delta, the south-east (home to HCMC and the industrial centers of Binh Duong and Dong Nai), the central highlands and the north-west regions.
The Mekong Delta is home to 20 million people, or one-fifth of the Vietnamese population, but there is only one highway connecting it to the rest of the country.
This made the transport of goods more difficult, increased logistics costs and put more pressure on the national road 1A, causing chronic congestion on this road.
The four central highland provinces of Dak Lak, Kon Tum, Gia Lai and Dak Nong do not have highways while national highways and provincial roads are not in good condition, making access difficult. from local agricultural products to seaports and national and international markets. .
Many lawmakers have repeatedly raised the issue in parliamentary sessions and called on the transport sector to speed up the construction of highways in these areas.