Japan To Fund $131 Million Bridge Across Mekong River

The Japanese government will fund a long-awaited $131 million bridge across the Mekong River at Neak Loeung town, connecting sec­tions of National Road 1 and di­rectly linking Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City by road.

Construction of the 2-km-long bridge will begin at the end of the year, following a Japanese-controlled bidding process, and is scheduled for completion in Feb­ruary 2015, officials announced yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said after the signing ceremony yesterday morning that the project’s economic impact would be far-reaching, as the flow of goods and people is facilitated across the Me­kong River at Neak Loeung.

“This bridge is very important not only for Cambodia but also for all countries in the Mekong re­gion,” he said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen attended the signing ceremony but did not comment at the news conference afterwards.

The bridge will be the second and largest across the Mekong in Cambodia, connecting Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district to Prey Veng’s Peamro district.

The first bridge in Cambodia to span the Mekong, the Kizuna bridge, was built in Kompong Cham town in 2001. It was also built with Japanese funding.

The new bridge will render obsolete the Neak Loeung ferries, which currently car­ry 10,000 people a day across the river, and whose replacement with a bridge has long been a goal of the government. The Japanese International Co­operation Agency began a feasibility study on the bridge in 2006.

The director of the state-owned Neak Loeung Ferry, Seng Chhu­on, said construction of the bridge will eliminate the long delays that are common at the ferry crossing. Driving across the 13.5-meter-wide bridge should take only minutes, he said.

“It will be a historic bridge for Cambodia, because we’ve never had a bridge in this area,” Mr Chhuon said. “We’ve been waiting for this bridge for a long time.”

Though the bridge will serve as the main route across the river, the ferry system will continue to operate several kilometers north in Kan­dal province’s Khsach Kandal district, he said.

Japanese Ambassador Masafu­mi Kuroki echoed Mr Namhong’s upbeat statements on the Neak Loeung bridge improving infrastructure and development outside Cambodia.

“This bridge will contribute [to] the transport for the people and goods in Cambodia, but also in the Mekong region,” the ambassador said at the signing ceremony.

Chan Sophal, president of the Cambodia Economic Association, said reducing the cost and the time needed to transport tourists, raw and manufactured goods and people along National Route 1 would have obvious benefits.

“It’s a no-brainer that is a great thing. It’s so fundamental that you need to connect across the Me­kong to Vietnam,” he said. “This… should have been done al­ready, let’s say in the last 10 years, given the level of aid to the country.”

Chantha Kim, spokesman for the Asian Development Bank in Cambodia, called the bridge a “ma­jor milestone” for Cambodia and the Mekong sub-region.

“We believe once the bridge is completed it will boost economic growth in the country as well as along the Southern Economic Cor­ridor through reduced travel time and cost from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City and between the two major border crossings at Poi­pet, with Thailand, and at Bavet, with Vietnam,” Mr Kim wrote in an e-mail.

Last year, the government de­flected criticism from the Sam Rain­sy Party that resettlement of villagers near the likely site of the Neak Loeung Bridge had delayed the project.

Lim Sidenine, secretary of state for the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works, said yesterday that the Japanese government’s lengthy consideration process was the reason for the delay in the project, adding that the Japanese government would take care of the re­settlement process.

“The Japanese counterpart has already provided resettlement and compensation for the impacted people,” he said, adding that he did not know how many families would be affected.

Japan also yesterday pledged $3.4 million to continue a scholarship program that sends young Cambodian government officials to study at a Japanese university for four years.


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