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Cambodia facing a dilemma on plan to give roads a facelift

Garment workers seen commuting on National Road 6 in September in Kampong Cham province.
Garment workers seen commuting on National Road 6 in September in Kampong Cham province. Heng Chivoan

Cambodia facing a dilemma on plan to give roads a facelift

With more than half of Cambodia’s 6,000 kilometres of roads being classified as “poor” or of “bad” quality by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, industry insiders said that the government needs to engage with the private sector to spur investment into quality construction and maintenance projects.

Speaking at a conference yesterday on resilient infrastructure, Sam Chow, an East Asia Transport Consultant for global firm Arup, said that while Cambodia is desperately in need of more highways, there are several obstacles that stand in the way of quality road development.

“In many instances, builders do not have up-to-date technologies, and roads are often built by untrained labourers who lack supervision,” he said. “For most roads, bad quality is a result of poor funding.”

Construction of Cambodian roads is in need of more formal investment, he said, adding that the government could raise revenue for the high maintenance costs of increased wear and tear through the imposition of tolls or by finding private sector investors.

“As business grows, drivers overload their trucks, which leads to safety issues and also increased weight on the road,” he said.

“A fast-growing economy like the one in Cambodia usually comes with increased movement logistics, which will greatly damage roads.”

In addition, he said that the government needs to conduct a cost-benefit analysis when choosing the size of an initial investment into a road project to see if it is both feasible and profitable.

He added the government needs to choose between investing in shoddier dirt roads, which require little funding but have higher levels of maintenance, or investing in asphalt roads, which cost significantly more but require fewer repairs.

“You may very well find that the higher cost at the start is worthwhile,” he said.

Currently, 70 percent of all Cambodian roads have been funded by China and built by Chinese companies, which often use a cheap construction method involving laying down a thin layer of crushed stones topped by rubberised asphalt.

Thou Samnang, deputy director at the Heavy Equipment Center of the MPWT, explained that the ministry’s main focus is on road asset management, which is the maintenance and smoothing of Cambodia’s existing roadways.

“The government is spending a lot of time on road maintenance, because of a lack of infrastructure,” he said. “But we cannot forget maintenance, because in Cambodia especially where there is a long rainy season, water can damage the foundations of roads.”“Repair is an important factor for sustainability,” he said.

Nou Vaddhanak, director general of the Technical General Department of the MPWT, agreed that the Kingdom was in need of longer-lasting structures and greater investment, but could not provide any details on how the government would secure proper funding.

“We need good-quality roads to prolong the life of our structures, and mostly what we need now is investment,” he said. “The intent of the government is to attract the private sector to participate, [however we] normally have road projects funded by other countries.”

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