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HANOI - Do Quoc Tai is an unlikely pain in the side of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party. Although the construction foreman earns just $150 per month, he and his neighbors have strong-armed the government, blocking a major ring road that’s a symbol of the country’s push to modernize.

Nearly four decades after Vietnam emerged from war, it now faces a choice: build new roads and subways in its sprawling cities or remain stuck in the past, allowing fear of social unrest to hijack its development.

Building a nearby 0.6-mile section of the road took a decade, largely because residents resisted low payoffs until authorities relented. State media reported that $39 million of the $45 million cost was compensation and dubbed it “the most expensive road in the world.’’


Experts and officials say inadequate roads and public transportion in Hanoi and other cities blocks the social and economic progress of a country where widespread poverty persists despite fast growth in recent years.

As construction of Hanoi’s inner ring road remains stalled, its traffic will almost certainly worsen in the coming decade as a rising middle class begins to drive cars rather than motorbikes.

Planners warn that if Hanoi doesn’t build more roads and efficient public transport while limiting car ownership, its narrow streets will begin to look as congested as those of Jakarta and other megacities.

The major sticking point is the price of land: The government wants to seize urban neighborhoods for infrastructure but offers compensation below market values. Many residents refuse to budge, and widespread corruption and bureaucratic infighting only exacerbate delays.

In Tai’s run-down neighborhood, residents and commercial real estate agents estimate the price of the land at roughly $4,800 per square yard.

Tai, who lives with 13 family members in an apartment, says the 55 families he informally represents have been negotiating compensation with local officials since 2008. But many have yet to accept a deal.


If residents and officials can’t agree, “it’s likely the government will have to force an eviction,’’ Tai said in his cramped living room as neighbors picked through garbage in an adjacent alley. “Some families have nothing to lose, and if they were cornered, who could predict what might happen?’’