|On September 24, officials from the Viet Nam Expressway Corporation said the crack was an "unexpected fault" caused by loose foundations, strong typhoons and heavy rain. There was no mention of any human error.— VNA Photo
by Thu Huong
Head of the Government Office Nguyen Van Nen told a press conference on Wednesday that the public should not jump to the conclusion that an irresponsible error led to a crack appearing across the then three-day old Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway. Reports also told of other sites where the brand-new road subsided "due to heavy rain".
The 245km expressway, the longest in the country, was opened on September 21, halving the travel time between Ha Noi and Lao Cai Province. Built at a cost of US$1.5 billion, it enables vehicles to travel at up to 100kph.
The faster link is meant to boost tourism and socio-economic development in the northern midlands and the north-western region.
Nen told the media that cracked roads were not just found in Viet Nam. He added that according to a report from the Ministry of Transport, the crack was found before the expressway was opened. He said the ministry had been supervising and inspecting repairs being carried out by the subcontractor.
Many journalists questioned why subcontractors did not reveal the crack before the expressway was opened, saying that its appearance was only publicised when the media became involved.
On September 24, officials from the Viet Nam Expressway Corporation said the crack was an "unexpected fault" caused by loose foundations, strong typhoons and heavy rain. There was no mention of any human error.
Unfortunately, the public feels the explanations are insufficient. This is not the first time billion-dollar expressways, so vital to Viet Nam's development, have developed cracks shortly after opening.
In 2012, five months after opening, the 50km-long expressway connecting Ha Noi and Ninh Binh provinces, sunk and developed cracks in many sections. The expressway cost a mammoth VND 9 trillion ($418.16 million)
At the beginning of June, similar problems were found on the Uong Bi-Ha Long section of National Highway 18 just one week after it was opened to traffic.
And not to forget the HCM City-Trung Luong Highway that opened in 2010 to link the city with neighboring Tien Giang and Long An provinces. It was constantly plagued with pot-holes, large cracks and sinking road surfaces.
That scandal forced Transport Minister Dinh La Thang to suspend the managing director of the HCM City-Trung Luong highway project for irresponsibility. The road is 62km long and cost more than $500 million.
On June 3, the Ministry of Transport held an emergency conference at which Transport Minister Thang said that all those involved in important infrastructure projects - subcontractors, workers, inspectors and ministry officials - must bear in mind that they were using public money.
He also told them that when cracks occurred, officials often avoided taking responsibility and blamed the road itself, the weather, or "the overload" factor.
Soft ground is not exclusive to Viet Nam. Other countries also have to cope with weather and land-related factors, but cracks and deep depressions founds shortly after expensive highways are opened are not acceptable.
In relation to the Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway, many experts believe there could have been mistakes in surveying the road and poor-quality construction. They called on the builders and investors to take responsibility.
According to a Transport Ministry report on a Viet Nam Expressway Development Plan presented in September 2013, by 2020, 2639km of expressway will be built, costing about $24.7 billion.
Such a plan would boost Viet Nam's economy. However, expressways cost a huge amount of money and the public deserves to know how it is spent and whether the work is up to standard.
Just to drive home the point, many involved in previous auditing processes have concluded that many expressways cost much than they expected because of poor preparations.
As funding resources for infrastructure is scarce, especially when much of it has to be repaid to international partners, transparency in these projects is vital.
The crack found on the Noi Bai-Lao Cai road may have been only 10 metres long, but the crack in public trust is far longer. — VNS