Thailand doesn’t have money to pay for railroad-crossing signals and is borrowing money from the Asian Development Bank to weather the coronavirus recession, but that hasn’t stopped plans for exorbitantly priced infrastructure mega-projects.
In the span of 48 hours, the government said it was moving forward on a 35-billion-baht “land bridge” running across the southern Kra Isthmus to connect the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea, and suggested blowing 900 billion baht on a a 100-kilometer-long sea bridge linking Hua Hin with the Pattaya area.
Government spokeswoman Traisulee Traisaranakul said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha wants to continue to invest in mega-projects to boost Thailand’s competitiveness. Never mind that no one is calling for either project to be built. In fact, critics actively are campaigning against the southern land bridge.
Intended as an alternative to a proposed “Kra Canal”, the land bridge would be a transport strip consisting of a double-track railway alongside a new motorway running the 130 kilometers between Chumphon and Ranong.
The government envisions building new deep-water ports at the end points of the freight corridor to connect oil producers in the Middle East and Europe with energy importers and manufacturers in Japan, South Korea and China.
Either a water or land crossing would reduce sea-transport times by two days as ships would no longer have to go through the Strait of Malacca. While the idea has the support of both coalition and opposition MPs, military-backed governments since the 1950s – including the current one – have opposed the idea of cutting the Thai peninsula in half on security grounds.
The military fears that if the South were physically separated from the rest of Thailand, insurgents in the Deep South would expand their influence and power over the region that once belonged to Malaysia.
While the business sector supports the idea of a canal, it is flat-out against the idea of a land bridge, claiming it will increase handling costs, canceling out any savings generated by the shorter transit time.
Logistics experts call the idea “unfeasible”, “unviable” and “ill-conceived”.
Traisulee said the land bridge project will be studied over the course of a year. If the study reveals promising results, it will take a further 30 months to begin construction.
The government envisions the project would be funded by both the government and the private sector.
Pattaya-Hua Hin by Road
Less developed and twice as preposterous is the idea floated Tuesday for a sea bridge linking Sattahip, south of Pattaya, and Hua Hin, an unnecessary boondoggle estimated before a pillar has been laid of almost a trillion baht.
Pailin Chuchottaworn, chairman of the government’s committee for the Mobilization of Economic Management Measures, said Tuesday the Center for Economic Situation Administration has approved a pre-feasibility study, but it could take a decade to scrape together the money for the Eastern Economic Corridor project.
“We have to admit that 900 billion baht is a huge amount of money, but it is reasonable when considering its final results,” Pailin told a news conference, justifying it by saying was cheaper than some of the government’s over-budget, behind-schedule mega-projects. And it would create jobs and source locally, he added.
Apparently, some of the “results” Pailin believes will come about from a sea bridge would be that Pattaya wouldn’t hog all the tourists in the region. He said making it easier to get to Hua Hin would force Sin City to share its spoils.
Obviously, Pailin hasn’t been to Pattaya recently.
For the record, Pattaya and Hua Hin for several years have been connected by a ferry service that lets tourists travel between the two cities in less than four hours. Demand has been so low that the operator hasn’t needed to increase frequencies.