The Japanese government will fund a long-awaited $131-million bridge across the Mekong River at Neak Loeung town, connecting portions of National Road 1 and directly linking Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City by road.
Construction of the two-kilometer-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 have far reaching affects as the flow of goods and people is eased 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 ceremony but did not comment at the news conference afterwards.
The bridge will become the second and largest bridge across the Mekong in Cambodia and connect Kandal province’s Loeuk Dek district to Prey Veng province’s Peamro district.
The first bridge in Cambodia to span the Mekong, the Kizuna bridge, was built across the river in Kompong Cham town in 2001 and was also funded by the Japanese Government.
The Neak Loeung ferries, which will become obsolete, currently carry 10,000 people a day across the river and building a bridge to replace it has long been a goal of the government. The Japanese International Cooperation Agency began a feasibility study on the bridge in 2006.
Director of the state-owned Neak Loeung Ferry Seng Chhuon said that construction of the bridge will eliminate long delays sometimes common at the ferry crossing, whereas crossing the 13.5-meter-wide bridge should take only minutes.
“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 act as the main route across the river, the ferry system will continue to operate on the Mekong River several kilometers north in Kandal province’s Khsach Kandal district, he said.
Masafumi Kuroki, Japan’s ambassador to Cambodia, 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, the president of the Cambodia Economic Association, said cutting costs and time to transporting tourists, raw and manufactured goods and people along National Route 1 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 thing should have been done already, let’s say in the last ten years, given the level of aid to the country.”
Chantha Kim, spokesman for the Asian Development Bank in Cambodia, called the Neak Loeung 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 nearby the likely site of the Neak Loeung bridge had caused a delay in getting the project off the ground.
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 he did not know how many families will be affected.
The Japanese government also yesterday pledged $3.4 million to be used to continue a scholarship program that sends young Cambodian government officials to study in a Japanese university for four years.