Vientiane/Nong Khai

Since it was built in 1994, the transport levels on the Friendship Bridge between Nong Khai (Thailand) and Vientiane Capital (Laos) have been rising every year. For facilitating further growing passengers and freight volumes, the capacity of the bridgeheads and the border checkpoints, and public transport connection need to be improved. The SMMR project supports its partners to closely coordinate their governance, and joint planning and management arrangements.

Sustainable Design of Urban Mobility in the Cross-Border Region

Daily average numbers of travelers and vehicles crossing the Friendship Bridge (Source: Lao Ministry of Public Work and Transport)

Vientiane Capital City and Nong Khai Province lay on either side of the Mekong River that forms the international border between the Lao PDR and Thailand. The First Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River connects the 1.5 million inhabitant Vientiane to the 0.5 million inhabitants in Nong Khai. Since it opened in 1994, the traffic across the bridge has been steadily increasing. In 2017, 2,200 vehicles crossed the border on a daily average, for a total number of 15,000 persons.

The modal share of individual transport across the bridge is much lower than in both cities, where it accounts for the vast majority of trips (Vientiane 80.5%; Nong Khai 97%). The high modal share of public transport in traffic across the Friendship Bridge is due to several factors, among which the prohibition for motorcycles and three-wheelers to cross the border is probably predominant. In Vientiane, formalised public transport has a model share of about 5%. No formalised public transport exists in Nong Khai. Although the border control procedures have been simplified for residents, opposite left-hand side and right-hand side driving in Thailand and Laos might further discourage motorists from using their cars for cross-border trips.

The Cross-Border Transport Agreement (CBTA) established basic governance structures for the cross-border regulation and management of mobility, such as public transport. Lao and Thai state enterprises run regular cross-border coach services between Vientiane and Nong Khai. In practice, most passengers travelling between the cities use a succession of three transport modes: one to the first checkpoint at the bridge, a shuttle van across the Friendship Bridge to the other checkpoint and another vehicle from there. In all cases, immigration procedures delay cross-border trips by up to one hour, which is a significant disadvantage to individual transport modes.

Twice daily, a metre-gauge train connects Nong Khai’s out-of-town station to the Thanaleng suburb (15 km from Vientiane centre). In 2021, the standard-gauge railway under construction from Kunming (China) will reach Vientiane. The planning for its extension to Bangkok, via Nong Khai, commenced in 2019.

As the physical connection between the two cities, the Friendship Bridge has always been at the heart of the cooperation between the two cities. As freight and passenger volumes rose, the link faces capacity concerns. These may not originate in the bridge as such but the facilitation of border procedures. The challenge is to intensity, as both countries have committed to increasing cross-border trade by proclaiming special economic zones and dry ports close to the bridge.

SMMR Scope: Friendship Bridge Intermodal Hub & Transit-Oriented Development

For facilitating the increasing volumes of passengers and goods sustainably, the challenges lay in the relatively low capacity of the bridge and its checkpoints, the lengthy immigration procedures and the complicated border crossing by public transport.

The SMMR project supports the governments in Laos and Thailand on governance for overcoming the challenges by more intense dialogue, closer coordination and, eventually, joint planning and management arrangements. At its core is the development of an intermodal transport hub and the development of a cross-border transit-oriented development strategy.

The work started with a visioning process with authorities and stakeholders in Vientiane and Nong Khai. The visioning workshop will kick-off the development of a cross-border transit-oriented development plan acknowledging ASI strategies and the application of SUMP methods and tools. It might be followed by technical studies on improving the regional transport services networks around the border crossing and the development of local infrastructure and border organisation.