The HCMC government has recently approved a proposal by the Department of Transportation requiring new construction projects to do a traffic impact assessment before getting a construction permit
The key aim of this new proposal is to restrict the number of high-rise buildings in the central business district to avoid traffic congestion and public service overload. Accordingly, all construction projects like apartment and low-rise housing projects, trade centers, schools, and convention centers among others must come with a traffic impact assessment report detailing traffic connectivity and the impact on the traffic system.
It is mandatory for the investor to conduct a traffic impact statement regarding the project and submit it alongside the project documents to the relevant agency for appraisal. The statement includes the current traffic condition within the impact zone, how the technical and social infrastructure facilities will be affected by the project, new traffic demands emanating from the project, etc. The impact zone for a project in the inner-city area is determined to be within a radius of 500 meters of the project site, while that in outlying districts comes with a radius of 300 meters.
In reality, the solution has been introduced rather late when inner-city districts, especially the central business district spanning 930 hectares, have been crammed with high-rise buildings and cannot accommodate any more structure. During a very long time between 1990 and 2015, almost all office buildings, high-rise apartment buildings and trade centers were developed in the downtown area.
Statistics show there are nearly 300 buildings of 18 stories or higher in the central area. For the first type, these high-rise structures are developed in dense clusters as seen in Tan Cang, Ba Son, Ben Van Don, or along major routes like Pho Quang Street and the vicinity around Tan Son Nhat Airport with 15 buildings, or along Nguyen Huu Tho Street with as many as 27 high-rise buildings within a short span of only five kilometers.
For the second type, high-rise buildings are also crammed into existing residential quarters whenever a sizeable plot of land is available. Structures of this type are not concentrated but scattered across the city.
When high-rise buildings spring up, the neighborhoods will turn more populous. An apartment building will have more residents; a trade center will attract shoppers; an office building will lure more people coming for work; and as such, vehicular traffic will rise.
Since 2000, the core zone of HCMC has become overcrowded, prompting authorities to resort to administrative and technical measures to address the situation. These include easing the population concentration by relocating factories and schools to outlying areas, opening new roads through green parks, widening alleys in residential areas, trimming pavements to widen streets, but traffic congestion remains. Social services for the people like schooling, healthcare and funeral facilities cannot meet demands, while parks are gradually shrunk.
Better late than never
Many factors are to blame for the current situation, such as the urban development model based on a nucleus; poor urban planning or loose management of urban planning; loose population management; and illogical licensing of construction projects. However, there is an important factor that has been downplayed by both Hanoi and HCMC, which is the role of the transport sector as a watchdog.
In other developed countries, traffic impact assessment is deemed very important, equally or more important than environmental impact assessment or socio-economic impact assessment. The traffic impact appraisal council is a powerful, independent unit directly reporting to the mayor.
Why is that necessary? It is because if traffic impact assessment is not done for new construction projects in a city, especially long-developed cities undergoing renovation, then such a city may end up being mired in a traffic catastrophe, with traffic congestion that cannot be solved despite high costs, time and effort. Bangkok and Manila are typical examples of such a deadlock that has lasted for more than 20 years.
It is noted that traffic impact assessment for new projects has been conducted in HCMC for long, but such assessment is not independent. It is part of the overall appraisal by the city’s Council for Planning and Architecture. Such assessment is far from fully-fledged and comprehensive because the Council for Planning and Architecture is mandated to appraise architectural dimensions rather than traffic aspects. Reality shows that traffic issues involving a construction project are often skipped when a transportation official fails to attend the architecture council, and such issues are often not properly attended to.
Under prevailing procedures, investors in major cities like Hanoi and HCMC often submit their construction files to three departments, namely the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (regarding the legality of land), the Department of Planning and Architecture (for the project’s architectural features) and the Department of Construction (for technical construction standards), while sidestepping the Department of Transport.
Hanoi and HCMC are not new cities, and therefore, high-rise buildings are often crammed into existing residential quarters. As such, any new structure when in place will leave major traffic impact.
Many questions need to be answered: Will the new project increase population and vehicle concentration? What adjustments are needed if the project is approved? How will a sudden increase in population and vehicular traffic affect the existing infrastructure? Will traffic conflicts occur due to the new project, and what curative measures (like building flyovers, underpasses or change of traffic directions) are needed?
In HCMC, due to the absence of comprehensive traffic impact assessment, many construction projects have caused traffic jams. Typical examples include new supermarkets being developed near intersections on Ly Thai To, Nguyen Kiem, Nguyen Oanh and Quang Trung streets, to name but a few.
Therefore, it is logical now that the HCMC Department of Transport has prepared processes to conduct traffic impact assessment as an independent and mandatory procedure for all new construction projects. If a high-rise building project is not approved by the Transport Council, it will not be forwarded to other councils to receive a construction permit. It is expected that these regulations will make positive contributions in areas where land is still ample, such as Thu Duc City and the outlying districts of Cu Chi, Hoc Mon and Can Gio.