Phuket Highway Department Chief Papiwetwoottisak Sookkii asked drivers to be patient while the construction continues.
“Remember, the idea of this underpass is to solve the problem of traffic jams at Chalong Circle,” he said.
The construction contract – assigning Civil Engineering Co Ltd a budget of B546 million to complete the underpass – officially began on July 28, 2015, but an oversight saw work on moving the power lines, utility poles and water pipes not beginning until March this year.
The seven-month late start means that the scheduled completion date of September 14, 2017 is unlikely to be realised.
Tailbacks more than a kilometre long were already evident on the south side of Chalong Circle last weekend.
“This project is the hardest I’ve ever had because of the narrow roads and the volume of traffic,” said Somkiet Yimpong, the Phuket Highways Department engineer tasked with overseeing the project.
“This is more like Bangkok traffic; other areas in Phuket are much easier for a project like this than Chalong Circle,” he added.
Mr Somkiet is already tasked with overseeing the construction of two underpasses in Phuket: the Bang Khu Underpass; and the new underpass at the Thepkrasattri Rd turnoff to the airport.
Mr Somkiet urged motorists to use the designated alternative routes around Chalong Circle, but admitted that this would not alleviate the traffic jams at the site entirely.
Phuket Highways Chief Mr Papiwetwoottisak had worse news – not all the land required for the project has been acquired. “Some of the land is ready for construction, but other parcels are not,” he said.
Mr Somkiet explained, “The expropriated land is a major barrier for this project, and I have no idea when the whole project will be finished if this issue is not resolved.
“The Land Acquisition division of the Department of Highways are working on this now,” he added.
In the meantime, work will continue on the tunnel.
“After the retaining walls are in place, tunnel excavation will begin, with the excavation starting from the Chalong side and continuing to the Rawai side,” Mr Somkiet said.
“I understand how much traffic jams there are. We apologise for this inconvenience. Please, be patient for this project. It is made to resolve traffic jams,” Mr Papiwetwoottisak added.
As a New Year’s gift to people driving through the area, Mr Papiwetwoottisak said that plans were afoot to pause construction from Dec 29 to Jan 4.
“We plan to halt construction at all sites in Phuket over the New Year holiday period so we can make as much road space available to motorists as possible,” he said.