The planning of the city's new underground space would be finalized by 2019, with focus on the 930-hectare (2300-acre) downtown area and Thu Thiem new urban area to the city's east, according to the city's Department of Planning and Architecture.
"This would open up more space for vehicles and services underground, therefore reducing traffic congestion and meeting the needs of the city's rapid development," a department official said at a meeting on April 14.
According to the plan, the department's planning team would analyze the geology, hydrology and current construction status of these areas before determining the boundaries and purposes of future underground structures. Based on the city's projected needs, these underground spaces would be filled with metro stations, car and pedestrian tunnels, parking lots and shopping centers.
Ho Chi Minh City authorities first approved a planning for the downtown area's underground space in 2012, and last year requested the planning department to submit a similar roadmap for the entire city until 2030.
Many experts however were skeptical of this project's feasibility at a recent conference on underground space development.
They said the downtown area's underground space is currently occupied by massive networks of electrical cables, water pipes, telecommunications cables and the drainage systems. As the city does not have sufficient management data on these networks and each network is managed by a different unit, many argued that it would be very difficult and complicated to come up with an underground development plan at this time.
Nguyen Van Hiep, former deputy director of the city's construction department, said the city had approved for the property giant Vingroup to build an underground tunnel connecting the two towers of its shopping mall Vincom in District 1 in 2011. But the plan was eventually scrapped as there was a water pipe in that place.
Ha Ngoc Truong, an expert in urban development, also recounted the numerous difficulties his team had encountered while researching the cause of sinkholes in the city as there were many underground works managed by different units.
The Department of Planning and Architecture however said that the city's underground development is urgently needed due to the establishment of the new metro system.
The southern city of 13 million has been looking to its metro project to ease traffic congestion, with six metro lines and two light-rail lines planned. The project has however suffered multiple delays, with the first metro line only half finished after six years and the second line mostly remains on paper despite being scheduled for completion in 2020.