In a recent government meeting on the development of the Southern Key Economic Zone, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc emphasized the need to confine attention to the development of the transport infrastructure system in the Mekong Detla. In fact, what is the real situation of the local transportation system in this region?
Dr. Tran Huu Hiep said if compared with what was in place 10 or 20 years ago, many changes can be observed and new bright spots seen in the panoramic picture of the Mekong Delta’s transport infrastructure.
According to Hiep, the Mekong Delta is now home to two international airports—Can Tho Airport in Can Tho City and Phu Quoc Airport in Kien Giang Province—and two domestic ones—Rach Gia Airport (Kien Giang Province) and Ca Mau Airport (Ca Mau Province).
Meanwhile, investment has been made in the Port System VI in the Mekong Delta, represented by the Quan Chanh Bo ship channel connected to Cai Cui Port Complex in Can Tho.
With regard to overland transport systems, Hiep highlighted bridges built across key rivers, such as My Thuan, Rach Mieu, Cao Lanh and Vam Cong. Of these, My Thuan Bridge, which connects Tien Giang Province to Vinh Long Province and is the first key cable-stayed bridge to be built in the region, has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, said Hiep.
Going hand in hand with bridge construction is the connection of road systems. Among the most notable ones are the upgradation of National Highway No. 1 and construction of new routes, such as Nam Song Hau and Quan Lo-Phung Hiep.
“It shows that the situation of the transport infrastructure has become better,” stressed Hiep.
Key connection identified but it cannot get through
Speaking of the Mekong Delta’s transport infrastructure system, Minister of Transport Nguyen Van The said key arterial transport axes have been formed in the delta, in particular the vertical axes and the horizontal connecting axes. However, connection among these axes is limited due to underinvestment or the small scale of investment.
More precisely, despite playing the key role which connects HCMC to Can Tho City and Ca Mau Province on a total length of 334 kilometers, only 212 kilometers of the National Highway No. 1 Horizontal Axis has four lanes. The remaining 122-kilometer section has only two lanes.
Meanwhile, on the eastern expressway starting from HCMC to Can Tho and Ca Mau, only the section from HCMC to Trung Luong, Tien Giang Province, was completed in 2010. The remaining section linking Can Tho to Ca Mau has been reported by the Ministry of Transport only to be in pending status waiting for more “appropriate conditions.”
As for the route running across Dong Thap Muoi area, connecting Ho Chi Minh Highway to Dong Thap and An Giang provinces and ending in Ca Mau Province, the section from HCMC to Thap Muoi District of Dong Thap Province has been formed. However, the route has merely two lanes. Meanwhile, the section from Thap Muoi District to Cao Lanh District has not been formed (currently it is identical with Provincial Road No. 887 of Dong Thap Province). The section from Cao Lanh Bridge to Vam Cong Bridge (in Dong Thap Province) and to Rach Gia, Kien Giang Province, is designed to have four lanes. However, only the section from Cao Lanh Bridge to Vam Cong Bridge has been completed.
On the eastern coastal corridor, which runs through National Highway No. 60, Rach Mieu Bridge, Co Chien Bridge and Dai Ngai Bridge, this bridge has not been started yet. The entire route is stymied by a new bottleneck: Rach Mieu 2 Bridge must be built to tackle the problem of connection between Tien Giang and Ben Tre.
Aside from vertical axes, the Mekong Delta has also many important horizontal axes, such as National Highway No. 80, the My Thuan-Vam Cong section, National Highway No. 91, the Can Tho-An Giang section, Nam Song Hau route, Quan Lo-Phung Hiep, the southern coastal corridor, and some national highways, such as highways 53, 54, 62, 63 and 30. These are horizontal axes which connect vertical axes, some of which connect all the vertical axes to make the connection of transport infrastructure system more compatible and convenient.
However, in reality, the investment of horizontal axes connected to vertical axes has been inadequate with the majority of them being only two-lane roads. The connection is therefore difficult.
About the aviation infrastructure, according to The, although the delta has four airports, the air traffic remains thin. Particularly, only 30% of the designed capacity of Can Tho International Airport has been put into use.
As far as maritime transport is concerned, albeit a great number of ports, they are mostly positioned along the banks of Tien and Hau rivers. The seaports are in place, but have not yet carried out direct import-export activities. Railway in the Mekong Delta is currently out of the question.
Albeit his praises of the Mekong Delta’s bright spots in its transport infrastructure, Hiep said the delta has failed to meet the demand for future development, if one takes into consideration the precondition that transport systems are pioneers in supporting socio-economic development.
“It’s clear in reality,” said Hiep. “If some locations lack transport infrastructure, it will be difficult to attract investment and develop the economy, and vice versa.” Hiep added that transport infrastructure remains a bottleneck for the delta’s development.
In the meantime, concerning the horizontal axis connecting Rach Gia to Cao Lanh and to Trung Luong-My Thuan Expressway, Tien Giang Province, only the section from Vam Cong Bridge to Cao Lanh Bridge has been completed. The section linking Cao Land to Trung Luong-My Thuan Expressway remains only on paper being represented by an expressway project running parallel with the existing National Highway No. 30.
Limited resources require careful selection
According to reports prepared by the Ministry of Transport, the total investment mobilized for transport infrastructure in the Mekong Delta for 2011-2016 is VND67.55 trillion, accounting for 12.25% of the country’s total investment in this sector; and for 2016-2020 is VND65.07 trillion, accounting for 15.15% of the total investment in this sector.
“Considering the Mekong Delta’s demand and development potential, it is identified as Vietnam’s biggest producer of agricultural products,” said Hiep. “The delta has been connected to HCMC and contributes greatly to the nation’s development. It is advisable to invest in its transport infrastructure to bring into full play the region’s potential. However, compared with some other regions which are less important, the amount of investment already made in the Mekong Delta was way smaller.”
A look back at the capital demand for the entire country’s transport infrastructure during 2016-2020 shows that it requires nearly VND1 quadrillion, according to the Ministry of Transport. Only some VND210 trillion can be mobilized, though. In other words, capital resources are very humble. Obviously, investment in the delta’s transport infrastructure must conform to the nation’s general plans.
To cope with this dilemma of the Mekong Delta’s transport infrastructure when demand far outstrips supply, it needs to have reasonable planning to identify the right order of priorities of projects to be implemented. The crux of the problem is not to spread investment too thinly.
Following good planning and identification of projects must be the determination to implement them. “Take the Trung Luong-My Thuan Expressway for example,” said Hiep. “After two ground-breaking ceremonies to no avail, it was re-started only by the aggressive instruction of the Prime Minister who insisted on giving capital to it.”
Hiep also emphasized the connection of different transport means to enhance the efficiency of the projects which contribute to the socio-economic development of this region.
By Trung Chanh