Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prime Minister Li Keqiang of China attended a ceremonial inauguration of the Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, which has been open since October 1 and has been used by between 10,000 and 20,000 vehicles daily.

The symbolic official inauguration of the expressway took place on November 9 after a bilateral meeting of the two prime ministers at the Peace Palace. Li is paying an official visit to Cambodia from November 8 to 11.

Kong Vimean, spokesman for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, told The Post that because the two leaders did not have enough time to visit the expressway in person, they decided to jointly inaugurate it as a symbolic official opening after their bilateral meeting.

“This project is the first expressway infrastructure in Cambodia’s history and also the first foreign investment of its kind in Cambodia. The expressway is now 100 per cent complete and officially launched with tolls from November 1,” he said.

Vimean said that Cambodia would also sign a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese government to build the 138 km Phnom Penh-Bavet Expressway as the second project of its kind as well.

Vimean said the signing ceremony would take place on November 10 and the project would start construction on the site in early 2023, once again managed by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) that constructed the first expressway.

The Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway held a one month free trial in October and officially began charging tolls on November 1, though they will be discounted 20 per cent for the first year.

The 187 km expressway reduces travel to Sihanoukville in Preah Sihanouk province to roughly two hours – a trip that used to routinely take four to five hours to complete.

Construction on the expressway began on March 22, 2019. It is 24 metres in width with four lanes or two going each direction, plus two emergency lanes. It links Phnom Penh to Commune 3 of Sihanoukville by passing through Kandal, Kampong Speu and Koh Kong provinces.

The expressway has a median separating the lanes headed in either direction for greater safety and six interchanges connecting to National Road 4 along with three rest areas and one parking lot.

Vimean claimed that although the expressway began officially charging tolls, the amount of traffic had not decreased and about 10,000 vehicles travelled on it on a normal day and nearly 20,000 vehicles travelled on it during the Water Festival and on weekends.

“During the one month free trial about 10,000 vehicles on work days and that increased to 12,000 to 14,000 on weekends. Since it began charging tolls there was over 10,000 vehicles daily from November 1 to 4 and that number increased to nearly 20,000 vehicles on the weekends and holidays such as water festival,” he said.

However, on November 8, a Range Rover SUV driving on the expressway caught fire and completely burned up at the 56 km marker of the expressway in Phnom Sruoch district’s Maha Saing commune in Kampong Speu province.

Regarding this case, Vimean said that it happened because the Chinese driver failed to have his engine checked for months despite the warning light being on and he did not report the problem for emergency intervention immediately, which led to his vehicle’s complete destruction before the emergency services team arrived. No one was injured, however.

Vimean called on all expressway users to inspect their vehicles and comply with the law to avoid such accidents. He said the ministry would strive to strengthen legal measures and better implement them to ensure the safety.

During the expressway’s one month free trial, nearly 440,000 vehicles it and 1,291 called to seek information or to report an emergency through the number 1399. There were only 19 accidents or equivalent to 0.004 per cent compared to the amount of overall traffic.