A top transport official has hinted at the possibility of having a controversial tollgate in the southern Vietnamese province of Tien Giang resume operations after the Lunar New Year festival, more than a year after it was shut down following drivers’ opposition to its unreasonable location and tolls.
The Cai Lay toll station belongs to a BOT (build-operate-transfer) project developer responsible for the construction of a 12-kilometer detour around Tien Giang’s Cai Lay Town, along with the 'upgrade' of a 26.5km section of National Highway 1, which runs through the town.
The developer was believed to have intentionally proposed 'upgrading' the section to pave the way for the installation of a tollgate that would charge drivers no matter which way they would choose to travel between the detour and the national highway.
The road-upgrade plan was eventually carried out at a cost of VND300 billion (US$13.22 million) after the developer received the green-light for the proposition from the now transport minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Van The.
The detour cost over VND1 trillion ($44.05 million).
The toll station is located on National Highway 1 before it splits into two separate routes, one of which being the newly-built detour. This means all drivers are forced to pay the toll, whether they opt to continue on the national highway through Cai Lay or decide to take the detour around the town.
This is why the tollgate in Cai Lay has come under fire since it began operating in August 2017, with motorists citing exorbitant rates and its mislocation as the cause of their discontent. Drivers argued that they already had to pay road fees for using the national highway each year.
Drivers then expressed their displeasure by paying the fee in small denomination banknotes along with several other tactics, causing major traffic delays that ultimately led to repeated cessations of the tollgate's operations.
The toll was next lowered, but this still did not prove effective.
In November 2017, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc ordered the operator of the tollgate to stop collecting fees to wait for a review of the situation, a temporary shutdown that remains in effect as of the time of writing.
Nguyen Van Huyen, head of the Directorate for Roads of Vietnam, said on Tuesday that top officials of the transport ministry will have meetings with the administration of Tien Giang in the coming weeks to discuss the possible reopening of the Cai Lay tollgate after Tet.
Tet, or the Lunar New Year festival, is the biggest public holiday in Vietnam when people celebrate the coming of a new year in the lunar calendar.
The 2019 Lunar New Year will fall on February 5.
The Cai Lay tollgate will remain at its current location, while tolls will be reduced by over 40 percent per vehicle, Huyen said.
Residents living within a ten-kilometer radius from the tollgate will be exempt from paying the toll.
The tollgate’s operational period will also be raised from seven years to 13 years to compensate for the reduced fees, Huyen said.