Operations have started on the 245km Noi Bai-Lao Cai expressway, which is claimed to be the longest expressway in Vietnam.

The expressway crosses through Hanoi and the Vinh Phuc, Phu Tho, Yen Bai and Lao Cai provinces. The Ha Noi-Yen Bai section has four lanes for vehicles travelling 100km/h and the Yen Bai-Lao Cai section has two lanes for vehicles travelling 80km/h.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said there was a need for the transport ministry to connect the provincial highways to the expressway, stressing on the crucial role that the expressway would play in the socio-economic development of the north-west region.

"There was a need for the transport ministry to connect the provincial highways to the expressway."

Dung also called for the speedy completion of the 19km section that connects Lao Cai to the border with China and the expansion of the Yen Bai-Lao Cai section from two to four lanes.

The VietnamNet Bridge also quoted that the party secretary of Lao Cai province Nguyen Van Vinh as saying that the expressway will play an important role in helping the province attract investment and trade and also in reducing the load on the Ha Noi-Lao Cai railway route.

The government invested close to $1.5bn in the project, which was started in 2008. Out of the total investment, $1.03bn was funded from the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s Ordinary Capital Resources, $236.21m as soft loans from the ADB’s Asian Development Fund and $170.31m as the government’s counterpart capital, which was spent on site clearance.

A total of 25,000 households had to be cleared to make way for the construction.

With the opening of the expressway, the travel time between Ha Noi and Lao Cai will be reduced from the current 7h to 3.5h. It will also reduce the driving time from Ha Noi to Tuyen Quang and Ha Giang.