Cabinet mulls B59bn of megaprojects

Slew of proposals for Northeast region eyed

After unveiling 19 new infrastructure programmes worth 59 billion baht for Ubon Ratchathani and neighbouring provinces, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha opened the Buddhist Lent Festival, the start of a three-month period of abstinence and self-discipline. (Photo courtesy Government House)

The cabinet on Tuesday acknowledged a raft of proposed infrastructure development projects worth 59 billion baht for the lower Northeast as the government concluded its two-day cabinet trip to Ubon Ratchathani and Amnat Charoen provinces in the region.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the cabinet discussed 19 projects worth 59 billion baht for four provinces -- Ubon Ratchathani, Yasothon, Si Sa Ket and Amnat Charoen.

The projects will be implemented gradually from next year until 2024. Some are still at the stage of environmental impact assessment studies while others are closer to being submitted for cabinet approval, Mr Arkhom said.

Regarding a project to upgrade Ubon Ratchathani airport, the cabinet has accepted for consideration proposals from the private sector to bring forward some projects such as a new car park building, a taxiway and two more jet bridges, Mr Arkhom said.

The 36.8-billion-baht double-track railway project from Jira junction in Nakhon Ratchasima to Ubon Ratchathani is being mulled over by the National Economic and Social Development Board and is expected to go before the cabinet in October, he said.

The cabinet also approved a study on three new rail routes to link the lower and upper Northeast.

The proposed rail routes will pass through Si Sa Ket, Yasothon, Roi Et, Bang Phai district of Khon Kaen, Ubon Ratchathani's Warin Chamrap, Amnat Charoen, Mukdahan and the Chong Mek border checkpoint in Ubon Ratchathani, the minister said.

The cabinet also approved the expansion of several roads in the region from two to four lanes. In addition, it ordered feasibility studies on potential projects such as the construction of a road alongside the Mekong River, and the broadening of the shoulder of the road between Ubon Ratchathani's Khong Chiam district and Chong Mek to accommodate more tourists.

The cabinet also signed off on the construction of the sixth Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge. The 1km bridge will cross the Mekong, linking Ubon Ratchathani's Na Than district to Muang Lakhonpheng in Laos' Salavan province.

Thailand will allocate 2.4 billion baht to fund the project with the rest to be covered by Laos, Mr Arkhom said. The total cost is 4.3 billion baht.

Government spokesman Sansern Kaewkanmerd said the cabinet has also scrutinised other private sector proposals, including one to develop water resources for agriculture and flood solutions.

Others involve adding value to farm produce, a proposal to create so-called "smart farmers", and develop provinces in the lower Northeast into models of organic farming, he said.

The government has allocated 10 billion baht to tackle flooding and drought in the lower Northeast since the 2014 coup. For fiscal 2019, it has earmarked another 2 billion baht to handle water management in the region, he said.

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