The northern end of the new tunnel through the Hai Van Pass in central Vietnam took shape on 20 April, with construction contractors blasting open the tunnel’s mouth, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

Following the detonation, 200 Vietnamese workers and Japanese experts from the JV between Cienco 6 (Construction Engineering Corp No. 6) and Japan’s Hazama will start excavating under the pass.

Hai Van Pass is a crucial stretch of National Highway No. 1A that links Thua Thien-Hue Province with Da Nang.

Under the north tunnel contract (known as Package 1A), the Vietnam-Japan JV will build a 3.4km long, 80m² main tunnel, and a 3.4km long 15m² evacuation tunnel.

Also included are seven cross-passageways, a 138m long electrostatic precipitator, a 1.6km long ventilation shaft and an 85m approach.

"Young Vietnamese engineers are working very well and we hope to transfer our advanced tunnel technology to the Vietnamese staff in a short time," said Masashi Kuroda, chief of Package 1A construction.

The Cienco 6-Hazama JV started preliminary work on 26 August last year, after Prime Minister Phan Van Khai oversaw a ground-breaking ceremony.

The Hai Van Pass Tunnel project requires investment of US$251M, 85% of which will come from the Japanese government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) loans through the Japan Bank for International Co-operation (JBIC).

The tunnel project consists of seven packages: tunnel civil works (packages 1A and 1B); access road and bridges (packages 2A and 2B); electrical works; mechanical works; a 110V/220V substation and transmission lines; maintenance vehicles; and resettlement infrastructure.

A JV between Red River Corp and South Korean firm Dong Ah is working at the southern end of the tunnel (Package 1B). The mouth there is scheduled to be blasted in June of this year.