Expressways, roads and bridges are critical components of a nation’s infrastructure as they play a necessary role in moving goods from one place to another and providing customers with access to businesses. Plans and proposals are in place to build connectivity networks of expressways and bridges across the Southeast Asia region. Cambodia’s road transport is the largest subsector, accounting for an estimated modal share of more than 90 per cent for passenger and freight. Road transport is the principal mode for the movement of goods and people within Cambodia and between the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) countries.

Upcoming expressway and mega bridge projects will promote the reliability, safety and mobility of the Cambodian road network as well as economic growth in Cambodia. Road infrastructure is also critical to social and economic development, especially in areas where roads are the only available transport mode. In a major development, on September 26, 2021, the construction of a bridge, embankment and a 50 metre road leading to the Thao Kong Ta Ang Communal House project, which was funded with donations from Vietnamese expats and businesses in Cambodia, was launched in Troey Koh, Kampot city, the capital of Kampot province. Kampot province, in south-western Cambodia,  borders the provinces of Koh Kong and Kampong Speu to the north, Takeo and Kep and Vietnam to the east and Sihanoukville to the west. The project will benefit more than 600 local households, many of which are Vietnamese, and help shorten travel time to school for about 200 Cambodian students. Another project, National Road 10, which will link Battambang to Koh Kong province, is about 44 per cent complete and scheduled to open for traffic in 2023. Further, the third ring road project stretches from National Roads 4 in Chumpu Voan village, Chaom Chau district, crossing National Road 3 and 2 to National Road 1, connecting to Phnom Penh port’s new terminal, which is expected to be completed by September 2022. The road will connect ASEAN highways and major economic corridors of the GMS region, facilitating cross-border transport and promoting international trade.

At the recent InfraBuild APAC: Construction for Infrastructure conference organised by Southeast Asia Infrastructure, Chao S. Phibal, Deputy General Director, and Phy Ratha, Deputy Director, Expressways, Mega Bridges and Investment Department, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Cambodia, shared their experience and discussed the upcoming Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway and mega bridge projects.They also outlined the key challenges faced due to Covid-19. Excerpts…

Chao S. Phibal, Deputy General Director, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Cambodia

The global construction and infrastructure market is poised to grow robustly over the next few years. As per recent available data, the length of the national road network and expressways is about 7,261.36 km and 187.05 km respectively. The provincial road network spans 10,863.85 km, rural road span 45,216.4 km and urban roads about 7,000 km. The trends towards modernisation of construction and infrastructure through renovation projects have supported Cambodia in expanding the size of its construction and infrastructure market.

Some of the challenges faced during Covid-19 are getting experts for equipment calibration, site management, purchasing materials and hiring personnel. In addition, the heavy traffic load and extreme climate conditions severely affect the service life of roads. As a solution to this, bitumen modification has been started. It provides resistance to temperature changes, rutting and fatigue, increases skid resistance, enhances bearing capacity, reduces damage by leakages of diesel, oil and gasoline, and offers more flexibility to high traffic volume roads with heavy loads. Some of the best practices are using polymer modified bitumen, high sheer mill, colloidal mill, computer control systems, etc. Further, new technologies have been adopted for smart construction site documentation, monitoring progress and controlling quality. Trimber GCS Automatic graders are being used to pave roadbeds; these motor graders are more accurate and efficient than manual levelling and converts construction data in real time. 3D pavers, being used for sub-base and asphalt pavement, adds an automatic control system to the original paver and save time and labour in measurement and elevation marking.

The Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway is an upcoming project being developed as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The expressway will be located in Southwest Cambodia and will link Phnom Penn, Kandal, Kampong Speh, Koh Kong and Sihanoukville. The expressway project will entail an investment of $2.019 billion. The expressway is designed to be a two-way, four-lane road with a length of 187.05 km, width of 24.5m, and a maximum speed limit of 100 km per hour. The construction of the expressway was initiated with the groundbreaking ceremony held in March 2019. As of August 2021, 64.73 per cent of the work has been completed and the entire project is expected to be completed by September 2022. Challenges in project implementation were land acquisition and resettlement of households, diversion of existing roads and shifting obstructing utilities on sites.

Phy Ratha, Deputy Director, Expressways, Mega Bridges and Investment Department, Ministry of Public Works and Transport, Cambodia

Currently, there are 2,112 bridges in Cambodia, of which 26 are mega bridges. These are Prek Kdam, Prek Tamak, Sekong, Mekong, Kizuna, Tsubasa, Prek Pnov, Chroy Changvar 1, Chroy Changvar 2, Preah Monivong Thmey, Preah Monivong Chas, Ta Khmao, Koh Thom, Chrey Thom, Koh Kong, Koh Puos, Kampong Thmor, Tang Krosang, Steung Sen, Trapeang Rung, Srae Ambel, Prek Phumdoung, Andoung Toek, Stueng Bot, Stueng Trong/Krouch Chhmar and Kampong Bay.

Upcoming mega bridge projects: The Arey Ksat Bridge will span about 2,400 metres, while Kratie Bridge will span about 1,741 metres to 2,692 metres. The sections will be either Box girder or I girder; prestressed concrete will be used and the alignment of the bridge is yet to be finalised. The construction work is expected to start by December 2021.

Going forward, there are plans to connect islands along the Mekong and Bassac rivers. A major challenge in the construction of roads and bridges is the a paucity of workers with the required skill sets. In addition, there are budget constraints. There is also need to improve the bridge inspection manual and create a bridge repair manual. In a bid to facilitate the adoption of smart management technology, the Ministry of Public Works and Transport is working on establishing a working group to create an information and technology master plan.