The Mekong Delta has lacked expressways for decades partly because construction here costs 30-50 percent more than elsewhere, according to the Ministry of Transport.
Home to 17.5 million people, or 18 percent of Vietnam’s population, the delta spreads over almost four million hectares.
It is the country’s biggest agricultural hub with more than 2.4 million hectares under crops and 700,000 hectares under aquaculture and accounting for 54 percent of rice and 60 percent of fruit production, and 70 percent of fisheries products.
But despite having all the resources needed to become an economic powerhouse, the delta continues to lag behind other regions.
After over three decades of reforms, it still faces various challenges, including underdeveloped infrastructure.
There is only one expressway connecting it with the rest of the country.
The 91-km expressway accounts for only 7 percent of the country’s total, according to the ministry.
In 2010 the 40-km HCMC – Trung Luong Expressway was built, the country’s first expressway.
It shortened the traveling time from HCMC to the delta’s Tien Giang Province from 90 to 30 minutes and eased traffic on National Highway 1A.
But it took another 12 years later for it to be extended by 51 km. The extension, called Trung Luong – My Thuan Expressway, links up with HCMC – Trung Luong Expressway in Chau Thanh District of Tien Giang Province and passes through five of the province’s districts to join National Highway 30 at An Thai Trung Intersection in Cai Be District.
The high cost has been the main reason for the lack of expressways in the region, Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyen Duy Lam said at a conference in Ho Chi Minh City Tuesday.
It requires 1.3-1.5 times the normal investment since the delta is “home to a lot of waterways, has weak geological layers and faces the impacts of climate change.”
The delta is the final destination for the Mekong River before it reaches the sea. A majority of the delta was formed by sediment and sand deposits brought by the river over 6,000 years.
Nguyen Tan Dong, deputy chairman of HCMC-based Deo Ca Group, which built the Trung Luong – My Thuan Expressway, said “The deeper layers of the Mekong Delta are mainly sand, and 80 percent of the ground above is also soft, which easily causes subsidence.”
He said the condition is “a challenge” for traffic works.
Besides, construction materials are “scarce” in the region and transportation takes longer and costs more than normal “because of the crisscrossing waterway network,” he said.
So better policies are needed to attract private investment, he said.
Economist Tran Du Lich said the delta has been left behind in terms of economic and traffic infrastructure development.
He called it “unfair” that the delta is linked with the rest of the nation by only one national highway, 1A.
The government approved in March a master plan for until 2030 to develop the delta into a key economic region with major infrastructure works included in it.
The plan envisages the region having 830 kilometers (515 miles) of expressways by 2030 and 4,000 kilometers of national highways.
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