Vietnam's new major expressway in poor condition before opening

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Someone has been siphoning construction materials off a major highway project funded by foreign official development assistance


A pole being pulled for inspection after Thanh Nien found shoddy construction on a section of the Ho Chi Minh City Long Thanh Dau Giay Expressway. The section is scheduled to open on December 30. Photo by Dam Huy

Only a couple of weeks before the launch of the first section of the Ho Chi Minh City Long Thanh Dau Giay Expressway, an ex-worker from the project told Thanh Nien that many of its materials had been siphoned off.

A subsequent investigation by the paper proved that what the worker, who wants to remain anonymous, said was true.

The 55-km Ho Chi Minh City Long Thanh Dau Giay Expressway connecting HCMC and Dong Nai Province broke ground in 2009, offering a major alternate gateway from HCMC to the southeast, central and northern regions to the current Hanoi Highway - National 1A route.

The VND20 trillion (US$950 million) expressway, co-financed by the Asian Development Bank and Japan Bank for International Cooperation, is part of the 1,811-km (1,125-mile) north-south expressway project that mostly runs along the current Highway 1A.

A 20-km section of the HCMC-Long Thanh - Dau Giay Expressway is expected to open for traffic on December 30. The rest is expected to be completed in 2014.

The section of the highway is part of Package 3, located in Dong Nai Province's Long Thanh District, and was built by the South Korean-owned Posco E&C Vietnam Company.

Over the past weeks, a Thanh Nien reporter visited the site several times and found that a number of concrete and metal barriers and center dividers were not built following approved designs.

The concrete blocks, to be buried in the ground to hold metal poles upright, are much smaller than they should be, and the metal poles have been improperly placed in the blocks.

According to Le Manh Hung, director of the project's management unit, the concrete blocks are supposed to 1.2 meters long with a diameter of 0.46 meters.

However, many concrete blocks are only between 0.25-0.6 meters, much shorter than as designed.

But Hung said the project supervisor had carefully supervised the project.

"They worked very carefully and place the metal pole in the middle of the blocks as designed," he said.

"When supervising, we observed and took the pictures of the constructer drilling into the ground, placing metal frames and the metal pole in the structure before spilling concrete into it."

But in reality, Thanh Nien found many poles were sloppily installed into the side of the metal block instead of at center as designed.

A transport infrastructure expert, who asked to remain unnamed, said builders who do not strictly follow designs cause great risks.

"If the metal poles are not placed in the middle of the concrete, it will not have the ability to withstand force as designed," he said.

"This is an unacceptable error for a high quality expressway with a designed speed of up to 120 kph (75 mph)."

Besides the reduced size and misplaced poles, many concrete blocks are sloppily made with rough surfaces and the concrete is not solid.

An expert experienced in assessing road construction in HCMC said sloppy construction is one of the ways corrupt people siphon benefits for themselves off a project.

"The constructor can cash in from saving time and manpower," he said.

On December 24, deputy minister of construction Nguyen Ngoc Dong said his ministry had instructed the Department of Management of Construction and Quality of Transport Infrastructure Projects and the project investor Vietnam Expressway Corporation  to examine the package.

On the same day, an inspection team from the two agencies randomly pulled up three poles from the section in question and found that all of them were attached to poor-quality concrete blocks that were smaller than designed.

After that, the inspectors allowed the builder's representative to choose a pole at his will for examination.

The concrete block under the pole he chose was also incorrectly built, with a diameter of 0.3 meters instead of 0.48 as designed. The concrete was also not solid enough.

However, the inspection team left the site without taking the poles for examination by an independent party to clarify the matter.

After examining the scene, the inspection team had a meeting with the constructor at the latter's office in Dong Nai Province.

At the meeting, Nguyen The Vuong, representative of the project's supervisor and consultant a joint venture between Nippon Koei and TEDI South - said that there used to be two supervisors in charge of overseeing several construction sites of the package before they assigned only one supervisor.

"Every morning, the supervisor checked if the construction company dug the holes [for poles] before supervising other places. When he returned to the site in the evening, the poles were already buried," he said.

Who's who?

Nguyen Van Chu, an official at the Department of Management of Construction and Quality of Transport Infrastructure Projects and a member of the inspection team, said the constructor and supervisor were at fault for the wrongdoings.

"The transport ministry has instructed the project's management unit, the constructor and the supervisor and consultant to report on these cases," he said.

Hung, the director of the project's management unit, said his agency had instructed the builder to reconstruct the poles as designed.

He also said the builder is responsible because the package is under construction and has yet to be assessed and handed over to the investor.

Pham Hong Quang, VEC deputy director also told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper on December 24 that the constructor would have to repair relevant damages before December 30, when the highway is scheduled to open.

"We will consider taking relevant measures against the project's management unit, the constructor and the supervisor and consultant," he said.

On December 25, the construction ministry issued a press release on the issue, saying it has instructed relevant agencies to solve the problems before launching the highway.

The ministry has announced it will evaluate the wrongdoings, identify the causes and "issue strict measures against individuals and entities found responsible" before December 30.

A source told Thanh Nien on December 25 that project investor Vietnam Expressway Corporation (VEC) had rebuked builder Posco E&C, package manager Sang Hoon Lee, construction manager Cho Yang Cook, as well as the whole  Nippon Koei Tedi South joint venture and supervisor Dang Quoc Thang.

VEC has asked the constructor to replace the construction team and wants the team  banned from any further construction on the package. VEC wants a new team to be assigned to reconstruct the barriers and center dividers.

MAJOR SOUTHERN EXPRESSWAY

Vietnam Expressway Corporation, the investor of the 55-km Ho Chi Minh City Long Thanh Dau Giay Expressway project, has announced that tolls of between VND20,000-80,000 for cars and trucks will be collected for this section. There will be no fee for motorbikes.

According to Vietnam Expressway Consultant Joint Stock Company, the route consists of 14 bridges including one very large bridge (Long Thanh Bridge at 1,721m in total length), 8 other large bridges and 5 medium-scale bridges (including a viaduct). There are 4 interchanges and 12 flyovers and overpasses.

The HCMC Long Thanh section will shorten the distance from HCMC to Vung Tau from 120 km to 95 km. It will lessen travel time from about 2.5 hours to 1 hour and 20 minutes.

The whole highway will shorten the distance between HCMC and Dong Nai's Dau Giay crossroads by 20 kilometers.

According to the project's investor, the highway's legal speed will be 60-100 kph (37-62 mph) and cars have to maintain a distance of 80 m (262 ft) from others.

In HCMC, the highway ends at an intersection of Beltway No. 2 in District 2. Vehicles from the city's center can reach this intersection by going through the Thu Thiem Tunnel to Mai Chi Tho Street and then turning right on Dong Van Cong Street.

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