When the new $8 million bridge between Koh Kong and Thailand opens this morning, officials from both countries will hail its economic potential.
Prime Minister Hun Sen is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony, which coincides with his 51st birthday.
The bridge and the nearly completed $7.2 million renovations to Route 48 through Sre Ambel district create a faster, easier route for trade between the two countries.
Previously, travel to Thailand via Koh Kong meant a trip down National Route 4 to Sihanoukville, followed by a boat ride to Koh Kong, another ferry across a river and an short ride by motorbike to the Thai border.
“You will no longer need to take the boat from Sihanoukville to Koh Kong,” said Koh Kong Governor Yuth Phouthong. “Now you can drive directly from Phnom Penh to Koh Kong” and over the bridge into Thailand.
The bridge and road projects are key elements in a joint Thai-Cambodian trade zone project, designed to draw investment from abroad and provide jobs for thousands of people.
Route 48 stretches about 160 km east from Koh Kong before meeting National Route 4 north of Sihanoukville. Although the renovation is not finished, officials say about 80 vehicles a day are already using the road.
The road has a gravel surface, which will be replaced later with concrete. The work has been financed by a $2 million donation from Thailand, as well as $5 million in loans from Thai companies, including the owner of the Koh Kong casino.
Sin Khandy, Cabinet chief for the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, said Route 48 will be a second Asean highway, eventually helping to link Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia.
Route 48 has not been maintained since it was built in the 1960s. Sin Khandy said repairs are also under way on National Route 5, the main highway running from the Thai-Cambodian border at Poipet through Sisophon, Battambang, Pursat, and Kompong Chhnang before ending in Phnom Penh.