PHUKET: The Expressway Authority of Thailand (EXAT) Governor, Aiyanat Tinapai, has announced that the Patong Tunnel project may see the light of day by 2017.
The news came at a meeting with Patong Mayor Pian Keesin, Phuket Vice Governor Sommai Prijasilpa and other high-ranking officials at Phuket Provincial Hall on Friday.
Mr Aiyanat explained that Transport Minister Jarupong Ruangsuwan assigned EXAT to take over the project in order to expedite its completion.
“To wait for the government to get the billions of baht needed for the project would be quite slow, so the project has been handed to EXAT because it can complete the project faster and then [begin to] collect toll fees,” he said.
“Our main goal is to make the project a reality as soon as we can,” Mr Aiyanat added.
To expedite the project, modifications have been made to the plans submitted by Patong Municipality, which used the Highways Department standards and did not account for the collection of toll fees from motorists in drawing up its plans.
According to the current plans, motorists heading west to Patong will join the 577-meter-long on-ramp comprising four to six lanes near the Patong Go-Kart Speedway on Phra Barami Road (Highway 4029).
The tunnels will be separated, with the tunnel from Patong to Kathu measuring 1.581 kilometers, and alongside it a tunnel from from Kathu to Patong measuring 1.613km.
On the Patong side, the on- and off-ramps measuring about 888 meters each will connect to Phang Muang Sai Kor Road, which runs behind Jungceylon.
However, EXAT’s modifications will see CCTV cameras and emergency telephones installed along the length of the project, and traffic lights will not be installed where the on- and off-ramps join existing roads.
Also, the Patong Tunnel will become the first road project built under EXAT to allow motorbikes to use the motorways.
“Normally, motorbikes are not allowed on expressways [operated by EXAT], but Phuket is a special case, as it is a tourist destination and this will make things convenient for tourists,” said Governor Aiyanat.
Mayor Pian explained that there are currently more than 300,000 motorbikes registered in Phuket, with about 80,000 scooting around in Patong. “Since last year, there have been on average 20 motorbike accidents a month on the hill road between Patong and Kathu,” Mayor Pian said.
Surprised by the high accident rate, Governor Aiyanat replied, “The project will have a special lane set aside for motorbikes to make it safe to use.”
He added that the tunnel lanes will be “reversible” to maximize the volume of traffic heading east in case of a tsunami or earthquake.
Thai Hotels Association adviser Methee Tanmanatragul voiced his concern over toll fees. “Private businesses, including tour buses, vans and public buses, can all pay the toll fees, and the people of Phuket really want this project to go ahead, but we’re concerned the toll fees may be too high for local people and those living hand to mouth,” he said.
Governor Aiyanat acknowledged this issue and promised that the toll fees will not be set too high.
He added that completing the bureaucratic requirements laid down by the Transport Ministry will likely take about two years, and that building the tunnel to EXAT’s specifications would likely increase the budget required from 5.5 to 6 billion baht.
“Construction, which should take no more than three years, should start in 2014… but we can assure you that the tunnel project will definitely become a reality,” he said.
— Atchaa Khamlo
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