A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed among state agencies in an effort to protect the environment and ecology with regard to the planned construction of a bridge crossing Songkhla Lake which begins next year.
The Department of Rural Roads (DRR) signed the MoU with the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Department of Fisheries and Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning.
Transport Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit said the bridge is aimed at improving regional transport in the South to boost cargo transport capacity as well as to shorten travel time for locals seeking to get to the other side of the lake.
The bridge will be seven kilometres long, connecting Songkhla's Krasae Sin district with Phatthalung's Khao Chaison district, and cost an estimated 4.8 billion baht.
Mr Suriya said he had asked the DRR and related agencies to ensure the project would not harm endangered Irrawaddy dolphins living in Songkhla Lake, and adopt a model for sustainable conservation of natural resources.
Montri Dechasakulsom, deputy permanent secretary of the Transport Ministry, said the MoU consists of five action plan phases between 2024-2028 focusing on six main frameworks.
The MoU states that the five agencies will reduce factors which threaten Irrawaddy dolphins and their habitat, recover lake resources and rehabilitate a number of marine animals.
They are also to publish ecological and biological research regarding the Irrawaddy dolphins in the lake, support research and development regarding the Irrawaddy dolphin population and implement a sustainable management plan to protect the Irrawaddy dolphins as well as the lake's natural resources.
Construction is expected to start at the end of next year, with the bridge to open sometime in 2026.
The project will cut driving time between the provinces from two hours to just 15 minutes and shorten the travelling distance from 80km to only seven.
The bridge is expected to improve logistics between cities on the Andaman coast and the Gulf of Thailand via Trang, Phatthalung and Songkhla.
In 2022, the World Bank was reportedly concerned by the impact the bridge might have on the last remaining pod of endangered freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins in the South's largest freshwater lake.
If their concerns are addressed, the World Bank will approve the required loans, and the three-year construction period could begin as early as next year.