Long distance ahead to reach Hanoi bridge goal

While Hanoi’s new bridge development by 2030 is expected to drive future socioeconomic development and increase regional connectivity, bankability remains dim, waiting for special mechanisms in which to lure private investment.

private investment, Hanoi, Hanoi’s new bridge, Socioeconomic, private investment, Hanoi, Hanoi’s new bridge, socioeconomic
Hanoi today has a batch of new bridges planned, but only a portion of proposed capital to cover it has been amassed, photo Le Toan

At the site of the second phase of Vinh Tuy Bridge, excavators are in full capacity and actively speeding up work to meet the construction timeline, which is scheduled to be put into operation in 2022.

It is the first bridge in Hanoi to begin construction this year as part of 10 major crossings of the Red River in the city’s new transport development plan by 2030, with a vision towards 2050 and approved by the prime minister five years ago.

With the total investment capital of $110.43 million, the second phase is expected to contribute to ease traffic jams, accelerate socioeconomic development in the north of the Red River, and strengthen regional links with other cities and provinces.

The plan in line with the prime minister’s directions, in which the north of the river will be developed into new modern urban areas with developed infrastructure, is designed to enable the city to realise its dream of a balanced development between north and south.

Pros and cons

The new bridge development plan is, however, taking on different ideas after lessons from the failure of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) topped public concerns. The BRT was a costly investment of around $50 million and faces falling numbers of passengers because of half-hearted planning and lack of connectivity. The situation is forecast to become worse when the Cat Linh-Hadong urban railway line is put into operation.

Ho Chi Quang, deputy head of the Ministry of Construction’s Planning and Architecture Department, said the plan to develop more bridges over the Red River is necessary. Hanoi’s existing planning takes Hoan Kiem Lake as the focal point, and then four city centre districts followed by three beltways. For years, Hanoi’s expansion and development plans focused towards the south.

“However, building bridges is not enough for Hanoi. To develop modern urban areas and increase connection, means of transport should be taken into account,” Quang said. “Other countries use satellites to measure traffic volume, and they then make forecasts for bridge constructions to increase links among parts of the city, with other cities, and with airports.”

Senior transport expert Nguyen Xuan Thuy said that many countries worldwide build bridges that then become popular tourist attractions – something that Vietnam could tap into over time.

Architect Dao Ngoc Nghiem, vice chairman of the Hanoi Urban Planning and Development Association, agreed by commenting that no matter how many bridges will be built, there should be due attention paid to the purpose of not only transport infrastructure development and economic development, but also culture significance.

Many countries have successful models, but Quang explained that applying models of city development from other countries is not always the best method. “We cannot build bridges to create a Seoul-like urban area in Hanoi because the Red River is very ferocious and people cannot live along the low-lying river dykes,” he said. “Moreover, the two banks are far from each other which is a different situation compared to the likes of South Korea’s capital.”

At present, Hanoi has eight bridges crossing the Red River. Existing ones like Vinh Tuy and Thanh Tri are tapping into their full roles in connecting with industrial zones (IZs) and export processing zones (EPZs) as well as neighbouring cities and provinces, thus utilising land funds, human resources, and materials and then improving living conditions for people there.

For instance, Long Bien, Chuong Duong, and Nhat Tan bridges all help solve the problem of regional connectivity, use of land funds, and improvement of living conditions for people living in the outlying districts. Similarly, other bridges like Thang Long and Nhat Tan increase links to IZs and EPZs, as well as between Hanoi and neighbouring provinces.

Bankability questions

Planning itself may not take forever, but the entire process from start to finish takes both time and huge investment. Normally it takes a few years to develop a bridge, and if it faces capital shortage or site clearance problems the time can be lengthened to decades. For example, Long Bien Bridge cost millions of French francs before the Euro came into use, and took nearly four years to complete. Meanwhile, Thang Long and Chuong Duong are valued at about $1 billion each and took 11 years to come into use.

As noted, Vinh Tuy Bridge’s second phase only kicked off this year despite being approved in 2016. Hanoi may be able to manage capital for this project for now, but for others, no confirmation about investment capital has been made.

At a meeting on March 28 with former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Chu Ngoc Anh, Chairman of Hanoi People’s Committee, proposed two constructions among the 10 crossing the Red River – Tu Lien Bridge worth $739.1 million, and Thuong Cat worth $391.3 million.

The city proposed the government to apply other formats of investment, or utilise public investment, as well as to have special mechanisms to lure financial resources from society because the build-transfer (BT) model in exchange for public land which the city applied in the past is no longer allowed under the Law on Public-Private Partnership Investment, which took effect from January.

BT investment attracted a number of private companies which greatly contributed to positively changing the face of Hanoi, especially the significant development of transport infrastructure. Prominent names included Vingroup, Sun Group, Tasco, and Him Lam Group.

With the absence of BT investment, how to ensure sufficient capital for future bridge projects poses a headache for Hanoian leaders. While in the 2016-2020 period, the city planned $4.25 billion for bridge constructions, it has only been able to meet 10 per cent of the capital demand. Bridges might therefore remain stuck on paper in the next few years.

International organisations have recommended an approach of integration with other transport segments such as rail to ease traffic jams and increase connection, while easing pressures on the huge budget for bridges by giving priority to those deemed most necessary, and more importantly avoiding incurring a debt trap.

In June Hanoi will approve the plan on development of urban areas at the Red River in which it will be the axle of development of the two river banks. Until then, investors continue to wait for a solution in order to join related ventures.

By Bich Thuy

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