|Vehicles wait for their turns to pass the Cai Lậy toll gate on the National Highway 1 in the southern province of Tiền Giang. The Ministry of Transport is considering lower fees. — VNA/VNS Photo Hoàng Hà
HCM CITY — The operator of a stretch of National Highway 1 in Tiền Giang Province has been facing protests from truck drivers and owners for collecting toll on the highway as well as a bypass it built.
The Ministry of Transport has stepped in an effort to defuse the situation at the Cai Lậy toll gate, and after considering five different solutions, has opted to continue collecting tolls but at a lower rate.
Also, on Monday Deputy Minister for Transport Nguyễn Nhật said all five options have been forwarded to the Government for a final decision.
National Highway 1 Tiền Giang Investment Co Ltd, which maintains the highway section near Cai Lậy town, recently built a 12km bypass and gave a facelift to a 26.5km section of the highway through Cai Lậy town.
It then set up a toll gate on the highway to recover their investments, but since it started collecting the toll, drivers have been protesting, causing frequent closure of the booth.
They said that after building the bypass the company only had the right to collect toll from vehicles using it. Instead it is unreasonably demanding toll from vehicles using the highway too, they said.
Furthermore, the toll is too high and costs almost the same as for using the 40km HCM City-Trung Lương Expressway, they complained.
Following the protests, the Government ordered the toll booth to close and the transport ministry to find a solution.
The ministry has considered five options.
The first is to keep the toll booth at the current site and reduce the toll by 30 per cent for all vehicles besides reductions and waiver for people living in the vicinity.
The second is to build a booth on the bypass and collect VNĐ15,000 on the highway and VNĐ25,000 on the bypass. But a new booth will cost VNĐ90 billion, and many users will prefer to use the highway due to the lower toll, thereby causing traffic jams. This could also have a knock-on effect on other build-operate-transfer (BOT) road projects.
The third option is to keep the toll gate and current toll of VNĐ25,000. This will be financially viable for the Government but faces public opposition.
The fourth option is to relocate the toll gate to the bypass with the Government providing a subsidy of VNĐ1.25 trillion to the company. To ensure its viability, certain types of vehicles have to be forced to use the bypass rather than the highway, and this is sure to elicit more protests.
The final option is to dispense with the toll. This will require the Government to annually pay around VND2.026 trillion ($89 million) to the company for a period of seven years and seven months.
Nhật said the final plan should be carefully weighed so that it does not affect other BOT projects or the investment environment, especially the North-South Expressway project.
Lưu Văn Hào, deputy president of the company, said it is awaiting the Government’s decision. — VNS