One of the country’s key trucking routes linking the capital to Sihanoukville’s coastal port is set for widening in a $100-million, World Bank-financed project starting next year, as a parallel expressway under construction is also now about 50 percent complete, the Transport Ministry said.
National Road 4, between Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk province, carries significant freight along its more than 200 km, but is narrow at parts and is in frequent need of repair due to the heavy traffic as well as flooding during the rainy season.
Heang Sotheayuth, a spokesperson for the Transport Ministry, said this week that the road would be widened from 7 meters to 10 meters over a two-year period starting next year. The work would be open to private bidding, he said.
Parts of the road in Kampong Speu province and in Phnom Penh had already been widened, he added.
Kong Sovann, a road safety expert and program manager at the International Safety Foundation, said his institution had been involved in providing technical advice on investments into National Road 4, and was optimistic that an upgrade would bring significant economic benefits for Cambodia.
Poor road quality and the traffic accidents add up to costs of more than $400 million a year, according to his research.
“If we save only $100 million a year from National Road 4, then we will benefit $100 million a year. So, $100 million that the government expends will be gained back just within one year,” he said. “Expanding the budget for road safety work is not a waste of money, but a very lucrative investment.”
Planned upgrades to National Road 4 have been in the works for years, and a World Bank press release from 2018 announcing $110 million in financing says drains and bridges will also be built in flood-prone areas.
“Infrastructure gaps are a significant barrier to competitiveness and private sector development. Upgrading National Road 4 will address this challenge and broaden economic opportunities for Cambodians,” World Bank country manager Inguna Dobraja says in the press release.
“Cambodia’s economic development relies on National Road 4, as it is the only road connecting the economic center of the country to the deep seaport of Cambodia,” Transport Ministry secretary of state Sovicheano Pheng says.
Some residents along the road said they were unaware of the road upgrade plans, and were unsure if they would be affected or compensated.
Bun Thoeun, a resident in Kampong Speu province, said he had never received information about the proposal.
“[I] have not seen any project. [I] have never heard any information, and no one has published anything,” Thoeun said.
Lim Lay, who lives along the road in Sihanoukville, said the upgrade would hopefully reduce congestion and accidents. But he was concerned about disruptions due to construction, and hoped there would be compensation, he said.
Sotheayuth, the Transport Ministry spokesperson, said compensation would be provided to any affected families during the road widening project.
The road, which was built and reconstructed with U.S. funds, for a time charged tolls under a contract with tycoon Ung Bun Hov’s AZ Distribution. Bun Hov previously held several government positions, including secretary of state at the Transport Ministry. The tolls were scrapped in 2016.
A $2-billion expressway project parallel to National Road 4 is also underway. The 190 km road, being built by China Road and Bridge Corporation, is set to charge users over a 50-year period before handing the road to the Cambodian government.
Sotheayuth said the expressway project, which broke ground in 2019, was now about 50 percent built and scheduled to be completed by March 2024.
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)