|The location of the Cai Lậy Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) toll station on National Highway No 1 was appropriate, according to Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyễn Ngọc Đông.— Photo zing.vn|
HÀ NỘI — The location of the Cai Lậy Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) toll station on National Highway No 1 was appropriate, according to Deputy Minister of Transport Nguyễn Ngọc Đông.
The official made the declaration at a feisty meeting on Thursday, which featured pointed questions from local media on the toll station in Tiền Giang Province.
The toll station was temporarily suspended from operation on Tuesday due to strong opposition from drivers on August 13 and 14, only two weeks after it opened on August 1 with fees set at VNĐ35,000 ($1.5) to VNĐ180,000 ($7.8), depending on the vehicle.
Drivers complained that the location of the toll station was inappropriate. The station is located on National Highway No 1 but collects fees for a 12-km bypass of the Cai Lậy Town and some drivers only travel on the highway not the bypass.
To protest the fees on August 13, drivers used small notes to pay the fees, causing traffic jams for hours at the toll station, reported Giao thông (Transport) online newspaper.
Speaking at the meeting, Đông said the toll station’s location belonged to a project with two components. The first component was to improve the quality of a 26.4-km section of National Highway No 1. The second component was to construct the 12-km bypass of Cai Lậy Town.
During the approval process of the project, the ministry received approval from the provincial People’s Committee, the provincial People’s Council, the provincial delegation of National Assembly deputies and the Ministry of Finance for the location of the toll station, he said.
Nguyễn Văn Huyện, General Director of the Directorate for Roads of Việt Nam, said the ministry had to combine the two components into a project to ensure the feasibility of the project, as no investor would pay for the bypass as a separate project.
Additionally, road maintenance fees currently being collected from road users were not enough to maintain national highways, he said.
About VNĐ10 trillion ($440 million) is collected for the road maintenance fund each year, while about VNĐ23 trillion ($1.01 billion) is needed to maintain the national highway system, according to Huyện.
“If the location of the toll station is not set here, the project would still be on paper,” he said.
In response to the strong opposition of drivers, the ministry on Wednesday worked with the provincial administration and decided to reduce fees by half for vehicles of transport companies in Phú Nhuận, Mỹ Thành Nam, Bình Phú and Phú An communes in Cai Lậy District from September 10. Other vehicles in the four communes will be exempt from the fees.
Therefore, the question becomes how long the payback period for the project will take, with period originally scheduled to be about six years.
Nguyễn Danh Duy, head of the ministry’s Public-Private Partnership Department, said the payback period would be re-calculated based on the number of vehicles using the station.
If the fees were reduced, the payback period was estimated at 12-14 years, he added.
The period would be adjusted every two years after the ministry re-checked the number of vehicles passing through the station, he said.
Nguyễn Văn Thanh, chairman of the Việt Nam Automobile Transportation Association said the project also improved the quality of the 26.4-km section of the National Highway No 1, so they established the toll station on the national highway instead of the bypass.
“But it’s inappropriate,” he said.
A BOT project meant the road was newly built, but the investor only upgraded a section and built another road then collected under the BOT project, causing the anger of road users, he said.
Furthermore, the fees were believed to be too high for a two-lane road just running 12km, at VNĐ35,000 ($1.5) to VNĐ180,000 ($7.8), while a 40km stretch on the Trung Lương-HCM City Highway with six lanes only costs VNĐ40,000 ($1.7).
Thanh said road users still wanted the ministry to move the toll station to the bypass.— VNS