Wilairat Sirisoponsilp, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Transport’s Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP), was in Phuket last week to announce absolutely nothing new; that the investment needed for the light-rail project now totalled B39.406 billion, and that the Patong tunnel project is forecast to cost B13.917bn. (See story here.)
Why Ms Wilairat was in Phuket to deliver that message in person, the same information that her subordinates gave freely while in Phuket on an inspection tour in January (see story here) was not explained.
Together the two projects are to cost a staggering B53.323bn.
To compare, the projected cost of building the Kra Canal is only B55 billion, and for that price you get a 135-kilometre-long canal excavated from Sikao in Trang, little over 100km in a direct line southeast of Phuket, to Ranode in Songkhla on the Gulf of Thailand. (See story here.)
More so, construction of the Kra Canal is projected to generate US$300 billion (more than B9.5 trillion) in its first 10 years, something the Patong Tunnel and light rail are very unlikely to achieve.
The budget blowouts for the light rail and the Patong Tunnel have been phenomenal, and officials seem set on keeping the inflated figures.
Transport Minister Lt Gen Arkhom Termpittayapaisith himself in March last year cited a budget of B31bn for the light rail (see story here), but only three months later the budget had jumped by B9bn to accommodate six underpasses that were deemed necessary to bring the project to fruition (see story here).
Compare that to the total B3.08bn spent on all five Phuket underpasses either already built or still under construction*. Yes light rail tunnels will cost more, but that much more?
And this is with no information on the actual estimated passenger movements, no counter-feasibility study to prove that an effective bus network is not a viable option, and not a peep about the “last mile” solution of how light-rail passengers will reach their homes or hotels from the stations. Surely the geniuses have figured out that the only high-density locale on the island is Patong, and the light rail is not going there.
And as the heavy rain earlier this week plainly highlighted, the bottlenecks on the bypass road and further south on Chao Fa West Rd caused by the pricey underpasses themselves will remain unaffected by the current plan to have the light rail travel along Chao Fa East Rd. Those traffic jams are here to stay, making the light rail only half a solution to Phuket’s traffic problems.
As for the Patong tunnel costing B8.231bn for the construction and a further B5.686bn for acquiring the land alone, we look forward to seeing the land acquisition register to see how much land was bought for that princely sum, yet it is difficult to believe that information will become available despite the government project being required by law to have all information publicly available.
You see, projects like these, including Thailand’s most expensive Welcome Gate at the north end of the island, are not “for the benefit of the people”, no matter how much the word “Pracharat” is bandied about. They serve just one purpose, and regular citizens just don’t factor in the equation.
And remember that these figures are in the billions of baht, where B100 million is just one digit difference in the first decimal place. What would you do with B100mn baht?
* Darasamut Underpass B600mn; Sam Kong Underpass B834mn; Bang Khu Underpass B600mn; Chalong Underpass B550mn; Airport-turnoff underpass; B500mn - See story here.