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Diversion tactic:  Highways Dept spends B720mn on ‘ring road’  to ease impending light-rail traffic congestion
Saturday 29 June 2019, 09:00AM
The Phuket office of the Highways Dept is spending B720 million on a four-lane road through Pa Khlok to join the Heroines Monument with what is to become a major intersection at Muang Mai, north of Thalang Town. The project, hoped to be completed within 2023, is aimed at easing congestion along the island’s busiest road, Thepkrasattri Rd, technically called Route 402, when construction of the light-rail finally begins. (See page 5.) Officially dubbed the Tha Rua – Muang Mai Highway, the road construction has already seen Phase 1 complete along 5.9km of the southern end of the existing road, Route 4027, starting from the Heroines Monument heading towards Baan Pa Khlok. Work on Phase 2, stretching 8.1km from Baan Pa Khlok to Baan Para, is already underway, with the remaining 6km of Phase 3 yet to begin, and yet to overcome some major challenges. "This project was initially presented in 2016. We started construction early this year and expect to finish it by our target, 2023. This road will be finished before light-rail construction begins,” Phuket Highways Chief Somwong Lohanut told The Phuket News. “This is to be an alternative route while the light rail is under construction. During that time, the light rail will be being built in the middle of Route 402 (Thepkrasattri Rd). Route 402 will still open but it lanes are likely to be closed while the construction continues. The traffic will definitely be slower, and this road is already nearly full to capacity with traffic,” he said. “Route 4027 will be another way for drivers to get to their destination,” Mr Somwong added. Breaking down the budget figures, Mr Somwong explained that Phase 1, from the Heroines Monument to Baan Pa Klok, cost about B50mn. “This part is already done. Only roadside drains to be installed, and this will be completed soon,” he said. Phase 2, from Baan Pa Khlok to Baan Para, is budgeted to coast about B380mn, while Phase 3 from Baan Para to Muang Mai is budgeted to cost about B290mn. However, Phase 3 has already hit some obstacles without an excavator even breaking ground. A section of 140 meters along the road is to be elevated as it passes through mangroves. The projected affected area extends some 500m from the road, covering an area of about 217 rai, Mr Somwong pointed out. “That means this part of the project must have Cabinet approval by law before the road can be built through the mangroves,” he explained. “We have started to compile our request to present to Cabinet, but it must be very thorough. It is not finished yet. I am pushing for this to be done and approved within two years,” Mr Somwong added. As Phuket residents – and Bangkok officials – learned in the building of the Thepsrisin Bridge at Saphan Hin, Cabinet tends to take such requests seriously. It took years for Cabinet approval to be finally granted in order for the bridge to cross mangroves from Sakdidet Rd to Saphan Hin on the outskirts in Phuket Town, even with the support of then-PM Yingluck Shinawatra. Worse, Phase 3 may need extra budget, Mr Somwong added. The final section of the road near where Route 4027 rejoins Thepkrasattri Rd is planned to have a flyover U-turn. “That in itself will require its own Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and we must expropriate privately owned land in order to build it,” Mr Somwong said. The intersection where Route 4027 rejoins Thepkrasattri Rd in Muang Mai, north of Thalang Town, is also on the plans to become a major junction in the near future. The extended plans for the intersection will see the junction transformed into a major motorway crossways with separate individual on- and off-ramps for vehicles exiting and joining Thepkrasattri Rd The intersection will feature an elevated “loop ramp” and an overpass, and will connect with Route 4026 on the western side of Thepkrasattri Rd. The plans also account for Route 4026, currently a minor road leading to the airport, being upgraded into a major artery feeding traffic to the long planned “airport expressway” that is to begin on the west side of the junction.