While Tuesday was a joyous day for some community members, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s decision to scrap the proposed multimillion-dollar expressway designed to ease traffic congestion has undoubtedly drawn criticism from some corners of Phnom Penh.
Earlier this week, Hun Sen back flipped on a proposal that would involve building new road infrastructure linking the city to the international airport amid community opposition.
Dr. Vann Vat, an expert in land management and city urbanization, said on the phone on Wednesday that Hun Sen’s decision to scrap the expressway plan was one “motivated by the people”.
But Vat questioned if the expressway would be placed on the backburner permanently.
“I still think this plan is not completely abandoned. There might be further studies [on the expressway] later, but only with firm stance, can this kind of construction be pioneered,” he said.
He added, “The immediate decision to cancel this plan seems to ease the possibility of demonstrations and to invoke more popularity.”
Vat believes that if the development of an expressway to the airport provides overarching benefits to the country and its people, an alternative option connecting specific roads to the airport should be considered as a way to ease congestion for travellers.
According to a report filed by Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon in late January, China-based Henan Provincial Communications Planning Survey and Design Institute was in the box seat to build the now scrapped 10-kilometre expressway at a cost of $260 million.
However City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the firm had no physical blueprint for the expressway proposal.
Mey Kalyan, senior advisor to the Supreme National Economic Council, said any form of infrastructure that can ease mobilization of goods is favourable, suggesting there should be alternative studies conducted on the expressway which would take into account some of the various issues at play.
When asked whether the prime minister’s decision will affect investor confidence in Cambodia, Kalyan paraphrased Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew. “If we try to please everyone, nothing will get done,” Kalyan said.
“The government should first invest in infrastructure before investors flock into the country,” he added.
Earlier this week during the opening of the new City Hall’s administrative building, Hun Sen pleaded with calm from the protestors opposing the expressway project who had requested a public forum on the proposal.
“Now, since we won’t be constructing it, we won’t need to engage in any forum,” he said.
“If anyone asks you about this issue, tell them that the Prime Minister has declared that there is no longer any construction plan.”
Despite this, Tol Lyhov, a citizen living in an area where the expressway would have traversed, said he and his community expressed happiness when he heard Hun Sen’s speech on the news.
“He [Hun Sen] chose not to go ahead with the expressway because he does not want to be separated from the people in the community who lived here since the early 90s,” he said.
Lyhov added that up to now, everyone in the community, including himself, had not been compensated by the City Hall or any company for the abandoned expressway.
Sun Choy, a representative of the Cambodian National Rescue Party said he had not yet received information on the expressway being cancelled, and declined to comment further on the decision he had only heard about “through the media and other sources.”
Hun Sen first raised plans for the expressway development last January at the opening of Phnom Penh’s sky bridge.