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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM nixes airport expressway, citing construction concerns

Demonstrators gather outside the Ministry of Public Works last month to protest against a proposed airport expressway. Yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the plan had been abandoned.
Demonstrators gather outside the Ministry of Public Works last month to protest against a proposed airport expressway. Yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the plan had been abandoned. Heng Chivoan

PM nixes airport expressway, citing construction concerns

In what appeared to be yet another sweeping gesture to address public concerns, Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday announced the cancellation of plans to build a multimillion-dollar expressway leading to the Phnom Penh International Airport, a plan that officials had hoped would reduce mounting traffic jams in the capital.

The premier said the project would not proceed given the difficulties surrounding the expressway’s construction and asked the eight communities opposing the project to stop their protests and withdraw their demands for a public forum on the issue.

“The project had not started, but people were demanding a public forum,” he said. “Now we will not have a public forum because we do not know what to talk about.”

In previous remarks, former transportation minister Tram Iv Tek had said the expressway would drastically reduce travel time to the airport, which was currently hampered by “congested roads”.

And speaking to administration students last year, Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong bemoaned mounting traffic jams and called for more toll roads and expressways, maintaining that traffic jams cost Phnom Penh some $70 million in wasted petrol and lost time every year.

Yesterday’s announcement, made at the inauguration of the new Phnom Penh City Hall building, came after the communities picketed and demanded the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation host a public discussion to air their concerns.

According to a report filed by Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon in late January, three companies had submitted bids to build the road, with China-based Henan Provincial Communications Planning Survey and Design Institute’s 10-kilometre, $260 million proposal winning out.

Lim Sidenin, secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works who has provided information about the expressway project in the past, said he had yet to hear about the prime minister’s announcement.

The expressway isn’t the first public project the prime minister has cancelled – apparently unilaterally. In the past he has personally announced the cancellation of toll road contracts on Veng Sreng Boulevard and National Road 4, at times characterising the decisions as “gifts” for the people.

In a separate announcement, Hun Sen said the out-of-service railway tracks running north from Phnom Penh’s train station to the Russey Keo district would be removed to make way for a new road that would ease the city’s traffic congestion.

Khuon Sarin, a community representative in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune, said that while she welcomed cancellation of the expressway, the newly announced road would still result in her being displaced.

“But if it is inevitable to build the road and if the development will affect people, they should get the proper compensation based on what the people want,” Sarin said.

Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Right Task Force, said it was good that the prime minister took into account the concerns of the people, and that “it was wrong for him to chase voters out of the their homes”.

Building the proposed expressway, said Ear Chariya, founding director at the Institute for Road Safety, would have resulted in a short-term relief from the city’s traffic problems. Instead, he said, the government should prioritise investments in public transportation, which would in turn reduce congestion, pollution and road fatalities.

“The current public transportation, including railways and the bus system in Phnom Penh, [has] poor design, poor investment and lack of motivation,” he said.

However, not everyone was happy about the expressway’s cancellation. Sonic Duran, a sales and marketing manager at Kerry Worldbridge Logistics, said traffic during peak hours was a hindrance to their services and that a separate expressway would be helpful if was wide enough to transport freight.



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Don Rennie's picture

Dear Sotheary and Ananth,

I agree. I think the PM made a very wise decision. This is not only about construction concerns and money for the expressway. There is a much bigger picture.

Phnom Penh's streets are wide enough to handle traffic. The traffic congestion at many locations is the result of stupid driving, not enough stoplights, a lack of traffic law respect, or no police to control traffic.

The bigger picture that no one talks about is this: The airport has only one runway (mediocre for an International Airport) and the airport location is near the center of the city creating aircraft noise and traffic issues. Furthermore, the airport land is limited in size.

In 10-20-30 years, this airport will lose its usefulness and become so crowded that a new airport should be planned for NOW. Has the government selected a new site? No way. This government does not know how to look into the future to solve problems.

Critical thinking demands looking into the future to mitigate and limit current problems. The expressway idea is merely a band-aid approach to traffic congestion along Russian Blvd. and not useful to the city of Phnom Penh in the long run.

Save the money for the airport expressway. Use this money to find a new airport site that can accommodate two runways and a passenger terminal that will be useful for decades to come. The new site might be located near highways 3, 4, or 6. Maybe other locations will be deemed more suitable.

Think ahead. Consider Vietnam. They want to build an airport 40 km from Saigon. Good thinking. Japan has expressed interest in providing ODA assistance for the project.

But first, the government should commission a master planner to study options for a new airport location that can be put into commercial use in 20 years. This means construction begins in 15 years. This means the land must be clear of people in 14 years. The current airport land can be sold to developers to partially pay for a new airport.

Is the currently government smart enough to do this? Let's see.


michaeltestep's picture

The congestion in Phnom Penh is an issue without any type of short term or near future resolution. The drivers in this area (near the airport) are just mimicking the driving that is prevalent ALL OVER THE CITY. While an new roadway would REDUCE the congestion, it will not be enough to create a benefit to the occupants of the neighborhood or the drivers using these roads. Cambodia would be better served by the Ministry of Transportation & the Ministry of Justice cooperating with each other to implement a program removing vehicles that are "dangerous" to operate (no turn signals; burnt out lights; missing head and/or tail lights; excessive exhaust) from operating on the roadways. This can be done by having an annual inspection of the vehicles for road worthiness. Removing these vehicles will reduces the number of vehicles on the roadway.

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