Hope among the public and transport officials for a fast commute between downtown and Phnom Penh International Airport on a new elevated expressway has vanished after Prime Minister Hun Sen cancelled the proposed expressway development in April.

Speaking at the inauguration of the new City Hall administration building on 4 April, the prime minister explained that the decision to cancel the plan was due to construction difficulties and also in response to ongoing protests from affected families. Families along the proposed route which aimed to reduce congestion on the route to the airport have been calling for a public forum since the announcement on 5 January that a Chinese firm would build the expressway.

“…There have been threats to organise demonstrations or public forums. Now that I have cancelled the plan, I think there is nothing about that to talk in a public forum,” he said.

According to urban housing NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, a preliminary report suggested that 1,000 to 2000 families would be affected from this proposed toll way development.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport reported that three firms bid to develop the highway. Chinese firm Henan Provincial Communications Planning Survey and Design Institute (HPC) won out against local bidders Muhibbah Engineering and Overseas Cambodian Investment Company (OCIC) thanks to its more generous compensation scheme for affected residents.

Henan proposed a $360 million, 10-km expressway standing 9 metres above existing railway lines and linking the city with Phnom Penh International Airport. Though no details emerged on the compensation plan, $197 million was allocated for construction which would have begun in 2016. The company would retain a license to operate a toll on the road for the next 30 years.

The Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC) bid detailed a 13.5km-long, 5-metre high expressway project worth $215 million, with $5 million in compensation to affected residents.

Muhibbah Engineering (Cambodia) Ltd proposed a $200-million, 14km, 24 metre wide, 4 lane expressway connecting Phnom Penh’s downtown to National Road 4 and the capital’s airport.

The expressway is the third public infrastructure investment project the prime minister has cancelled this year, following the suspension on the toll road contracts on Veng Sreng Blvd and National Road 4, announcing them as gifts to the people in celebration of the New Year.

He also announced that the unused railway tracks running north from Phnom Penh’s train station to Kilometer 6 of Russey Keo district would be removed to make way for a new road that would ease the city’s traffic congestion.

“We may build on the rail segment a big new road to relieve traffic into Phnom Penh. It is a nine kilometre long road and once it is built, the road would be able to reduce heavy traffic from the northern part of the city to Phnom Penh at Wat Phnom and the Royal Palace, but through Boeng Kak,” he added.

Ear Chariya, founding director of the Institute for Road Safety told the Phnom Penh Post that building expressways alone cannot solve the city’s long-term traffic problems. He urged the government to improve investment in public transportation which would in turn reduce congestion, pollution and road fatalities.

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong has in the past called for more toll roads and expressways, saying that traffic jams cost Phnom Penh some $70 million in wasted petrol and lost time every year.

Besides this controversial expressway, two more long expressways have been proposed. A 220km highway linking Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City costing around $2.2 billion was announced by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2012 with completion slated for 2030.

China’s Henan Provincial Communications Planning, Survey, and Design Institute Co., Ltd. has also proposed a 190km expressway connecting Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville costing some $1.6 billion. Pending final approval, construction on the new road will start in 2016 and open in 2020.

According to Cambodia’s Expressway Master Plan, the country needs 850km of expressways by 2020 which would cost an estimated $9 billion. Investment capital of a further $26 billion is required to construct 2,230km by 2040.

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