There's no missing the massive green construction barrier that dominates the Phnom Penh river front. Four meters tall and stretching from the night market at Street 106 to The FCC at Street 178, the fence is the most visible aspect of a $20 million, Japanese-funded battle against the seasonal ravages of the monsoon rains.
Much of west Phnom Penh is low-lying, and the quay and nearby areas are well-known for their heavy seasonal flooding. When the rains come, traffic and commerce come to a standstill. Receding waters can take hours to trickle away through the districts 1950s-era drainage system.
Along with upgrading the existing system of underground drains with bigger pipes, the heart of the Japanese project lies in installing four pumping stations and four massive underground water reservoirs under the riverfront promenade: one pump-reservoir pair near the night market, two more out front of Wat Ounalom, and the last near Chaktomuk Theatre.
The improved underground drainage system will feed the reservoirs. To the north, massive drains will run under the Street 106/Street 108 corridor, with smaller feeder pipes stretching further north to Wat Phnom. Another drainage main will run west underneath Street 154 from Wat Ounalom past Kandal Market. The third main pipe will flow beneath Street 178 between the FCC and the National Museum, and the last will go under Street 240.
The plan is for the drainage system to funnel rain waters into the massive reservoirs, the largest of which, just north of the Street 154-Sisowath junction, is nearly 6,500 cubic meters. From the reservoirs the pumping stations can blast the water down to Chaktomuk and then safely out into the river.
If it works as advertised, the project will put an end to the annual flooding that plaques Phnom Penn, turning streets into rivers and causing chaos from Wat Phnom down to the old National Assembly.
Until construction is complete, however, there's not only the flood waters to contend with, but construction and road closings too.
The good news is that work in the night market area -- or work that would shut down streets, at least -- has just been completed. Work around Wat Phnom is nearly done, too, with just two small sections to go. And, at least at this point in the lifecycle of the project, installation of the pumps and reservoirs is running ahead of schedule.
But construction further south, warn project advisers, won't be finished until March 2010.
Road closings have a noticeable effect. Street 148 is currently closed near the riverside, were construction workers are installing the drainage line that will service the Kandal Market area. The construction makes market access problematic. With less traffic, vendors in the area are starting to feel the pinch.
The effects of work along the Street 178 corridor can be felt from Café Fresco down past the museum, an area where parking has always been problematic, but recent construction has made nearly unbearable.
The work along Street 178 is expected to continue for many weeks. Authorities are considering doing more work at night to ease the burden on daytime travelers.
Future work along the Street 240 strip is expected to be just as troublesome.
During the project's groundbreaking ceremony in October last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen acknowledged the difficulties of conducting such a major project in popular tourist areas but urged the public to be patient while the work is being done.
Once the project is complete, he said, it will benefit the whole area and improve traffic and tourism.
Vendors in the area, while concerned with a drop-off in trade, have so far taken the prime minister's words to heart.