Not satisfied with the highway

The horrifying traffic accidents on two-lane highways have highlighted the urgent need for improvement in the upcoming National Technical Standards for highway design.

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The Ministry of Transport (MOT) is seeking opinions from ministries, sectors, localities, and experts on the draft of the National Technical Standard for Highway Design. The draft will be solicited for opinions until March 5 before being signed and issued by the Minister of MOT.

Concerns over many highways

The Resolution of the 13th Party Congress sets the target of completing 3,000 km of highways by 2025 and 5,000 km by 2030. By the beginning of 2024, the country has had nearly 2,000 km of highways running from the North to the South.

On February 18, a tragic accident occurred on the Cam Lo – La Son highway section passing through Phong Dien district, Thua Thien – Hue province, causing 3 deaths which revealed the flaws in the current highways. This highway is over 98 km long, put into operation at the end of 2022, with a scale of 2 lanes, except for some sections allowing for expansion to 4 lanes.

In addition to subjective causes due to the consciousness of participants in traffic, many opinions believe that there are also causes due to the design of the 2-lane highways, without rigid barriers, creating bottlenecks when merging lanes that pose a risk of accidents. Ms. Nguyen Thi Suu, Deputy Head of the Delegation of National Assembly Delegates from Thua Thien – Hue province, said that since its operation, many accidents have occurred on the Cam Lo – La Son highway. As a frequent traveler on this highway, Ms. Suu feels very unsafe. “There are many shortcomings of the Cam Lo – La Son highway in particular and the 2-lane highways without dividers, lacking emergency stopping lanes that have been reflected by us through National Assembly sessions and the National Assembly’s Standing Committee” – Ms. Suu said.

After the traffic accident that caused 3 deaths, Ms. Suu proposed that Minister of MOT Nguyen Van Thang and traffic experts survey this highway to identify the flaws in traffic organization and road design. “I hope the transportation sector will soon upgrade the Cam Lo – La Son highway to at least 4 lanes. That’s the only way to reduce accidents” – Ms. Suu recommended.

According to Deputy of National Assembly Tran Van Tien (Vinh Phuc delegation), the transportation sector needs to upgrade the highways that have only 2 lanes. According to him, the traffic accident on the Cam Lo – La Son highway not only has the fault of the driver but also results from the narrow highway, making it difficult to control vehicles. Therefore, if it is a highway, there must be at least 2 lanes and one emergency stopping lane in each direction to ensure traffic safety.

In October 2023, after a survey, the Ministry of Public Security also proposed the MOT to immediately rectify the inconsistencies in construction and traffic organization on 7 highway sections, which have not met the safety standards, including Cam Lo – La Son, Vinh Hao – Phan Thiet, Nha Trang – Cam Lam, Noi Bai – Lao Cai, Cao Bo – Mai Son – Highway 45, Trung Luong – My Thuan, Hanoi – Thai Nguyen. According to the Ministry of Public Security, the Cam Lo – La Son highway has only 2 lanes, a road width of 23 m, and has 1 lane dedicated to overtaking every 10 km with a scale of 4 lanes. The equivalent section of a lowland road (similar to the Tuy Loan – La Son section) with a traffic volume of 1,500 vehicles/day. From the time it was opened (December 31, 2022) to October 2023 (the time the Ministry of Public Security sent the document to the MOT), there have been 4 traffic accidents.

Investing in new modern highways to ensure the safety of people participating in traffic

The MOT also recognizes the danger

In late 2023, the MOT submitted a report to the Government on evaluating and studying the investment in upgrading operating highways with phased investment scale. This explains why it is necessary to invest in 2-lane highways in phases. According to the leaders of the MOT, there are 5 highways with 2 lanes and a length of 371 km, including Cam Lo – La Son, La Son – Hoa Lien, Yen Bai – Lao Cai, Hoa Lac – Hoa Binh, Thai Nguyen – Cho Moi. There are 7 4-lane highways with non-continuous emergency stopping lanes and a length of 372 km, including Cao Bo – Mai Son, Mai Son – Highway 45, Highway 45 – Nghi Son, Nghi Son – Dien Chau, Nha Trang – Cam Lam, Vinh Hao – Phan Thiet, Trung Luong – My Thuan.

The MOT believes that it is necessary to invest in 2-lane highways because the phased investment scale of highways is suitable for transport needs in the period of low traffic volume and in the context of limited budget capital and difficulties in mobilizing non-budget capital. In conditions where resources are still limited, phased investment is necessary and appropriate. However, phased investment with a cross-sectional width of 2 lanes without median barriers poses a risk of traffic safety; 4-lane roads with non-continuous emergency stopping lanes are at risk of congestion in case of incidents.

Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tran Chung, Chairman of the Association for Investment in road traffic infrastructure Viet Nam, evaluates a highway that meets the mandatory standards must have a median barrier, no intersection, must have a continuous emergency stopping lane, and some accompanying infrastructure such as rest areas. However, in recent times, due to financial difficulties, we have applied standards to phase investment, resulting in a situation where some highways do not meet all of the above standards. For example, there are highways with only 2 lanes, no emergency stopping lane but replaced by emergency stopping points… “In cases where these conditions have been raised to the standard of highway design, they must be strictly followed. All highways must meet these requirements” – Mr. Chung said.

According to Minister of MOT Nguyen Van Thang, in implementing the directions of the Prime Minister, the MOT has proposed 6 solutions to soon invest in expanding and improving operating highways in phased scale, including mechanisms that allow expansion, renovation, upgrading, and modernizing highways through PPP methods, BOT contracts. Currently, the MOT is gathering opinions and perfecting the draft of the Highway Design Standard to be issued in the first quarter of 2024. According to the MOT, this highway design standard replaces the current regulations – which does not specify the minimum number of lanes in the initial design but only provides that the highway must be designed to meet the needs of each period.

Regarding the design speed, the draft standard stipulates 3 levels based on the vehicle speed: Level 80 with a design speed of 80 km/h; Level 100 with a design speed of 100 km/h; Level 120 with a design speed of 120 km/h; special design level, design speed over 120 km/h, under research. In which, the 80 km/h level only applies to mountainous and highlands areas, where the terrain is difficult, or in the case of phased investment.

Must have a minimum of 4 running lanes

According to Mr. Le Kim Thanh, Director of Vietnam Expressway Corporation, the country has nearly 2,000 km of highways, but the scale is uneven, with highways implemented in phases, 2-lane highways, or so-called pre-highways. For phased investment highways, the draft stipulates that highways with higher planning levels will be made at a minimum level. For example, based on the planning, the highway must have 4 lanes, resolutely not divided. The 6-8 lane planning can be phased investment with 4 lanes, 2 on each side, and an emergency stopping lane.

Urgently adjusting traffic organization on the Cam Lo – La Son highway

On February 20, Minister of MOT Nguyen Van Thang chaired a meeting to implement the Prime Minister’s directive to rectify the consequences of the extremely serious traffic accident on the Cam Lo – La Son highway under the jurisdiction of Thua Thien – Hue province, which occurred on February 18, causing 3 deaths.

The Minister entrusted the Vietnam Expressway Corporation and the Ho Chi Minh Road Project Management Board to urgently inspect and review the entire highway; rectify the flaws immediately to ensure the safety of vehicles. Units should carry out investment preparation for Phase 2 of expanding this highway as quickly as possible to report to the competent authorities for approval and fund allocation for implementation.

SOURCEcafef
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