Road Improvements Not Enough For Traffic Woes

Real Estate - Saigon/HCMC: Nov. 7, 2017

Residents of Kim Cuong Island (Diamond Island) will have to get used to the sounds of jackhammers and cranes, as ground will soon break on the construction of a new bridge that will connect the island on the Saigon River with District 2.

The bridge construction is celebrated by developers: land prices near the new bridge have already increased by nearly 80 percent since the beginning of this year. Several high-rises are already being built on the island, which will cater to the city’s ultra rich, offering three swimming pools, tennis courts and a personal shuttle river bus service to District 1.

This project and several other high-profile infrastructure projects represent some of the city government’s efforts to usher in new developments.

Big Plans and Little Action

If it sounds like much of the development is focused around District 2, that’s because it is. It follows the Ho Chi Minh City Government’s city development plan that was originally approved in 1998 and reaffirmed in 2014. Saigon’s expansion is to be focused south and east, which roughly correlates to Districts 2 and 7.

As real estate consultant company CBRE’s Senior Director of Research & Consulting Services, Dung Duong, told #iAMHCMC, “the east is the gateway of the city to other provinces in the north. So, if you want to get to all other coastal cities like Vung Tau or Phan Thiet, then you need to get through the east.”

Today’s city planners have been betting big on the much-awaited Thu Thiem area. In addition to the Thu Thiem 2 Bridge, two other bridges are in the pipeline for construction: the Thu Thiem 3 Bridge, which will connect District 4 with District 2, and the Thu Thiem 4 Bridge, connecting District 7 with District 2.

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City architects predict that once the buildings begin to go up in the area, new bridges will be needed to accommodate the influx of traffic. But where are the buildings?

“This is the story of the chicken and the egg,” Duong said. “Developers are waiting for infrastructure to be completed, and in the meantime the government prefers land to be developed before they start to build the bridges.” It’s a real-estate stand-off.

Beyond Imagination and Control

While development focus sits squarely on District 2, other areas in the city suffer. This year city officials conducted a survey to determine the worst traffic areas. They listed 37 in total, spread across Saigon. What’s worse, a 2009 study from the University of Toronto determined that traffic road expansions actually increase the amount of traffic in an area, rather than reduce it, a phenomenon called induced demand: when there’s more of something, people want it more.

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All solutions seem to point to public transport rather than road adjustments, meaning that the metro construction can’t come quick enough.

However, as Le Nguyen Minh Quang, the head of the management board for the metro project, recently told the media, the construction is lagging, partly due to money disbursement issues. Quang predicts that the consequences of a pull-out “will be beyond imagination and control”.

For the next few years, even if the metro is completed by 2019, it’s likely that traffic will only become worse. As the metro line will focus on Districts 2, 9 and 1, the 37 hotspots will likely go unaided.

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