Armenia’s Ministry of Transport and Communication officially announced the start of a multimillion government project to upgrade Armenia’s main highways stretching more than 550 kilometers to neighboring Georgia and Iran, RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) reports.
The Madrid-based group Isolux Corsan inaugurated the start of work on a 53-kilometer highway connecting Yerevan to the southern town of Ararat in the presence of its senior executives and Armenian government officials.
The construction will be financed from a $500 million loan which the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) allocated to Armenia in 2009. The ADB loan is designed to support the implementation of the so-called North-South Project envisaging the reconstruction of the highways stretching from the Armenian-Iranian border to one of the three Armenian-Georgian border crossings.
The Armenian authorities have been touting this project as one of the most important steps towards making Armenia a transportation hub between Asia (Iran) and Europe (Georgia). Even though I’m rather sceptical about this, given Iran’s sanctions and Georgia’s increasingly warming ties with Turkey and Azerbaijan, who will do all they can to continue Armenia’s current isolation, this is indeed great news. There are Spanish and French companies involved in construction and quality control, Armenian road-workers will receive training and get exposed to modern technologies, more than a 1,000 new jobs will be created. On a related note, however, as RFE/RL notes, the implementation of this “single largest road project in Armenia’s history” was “originally due to start in 2010.” I recall, that there were some allegations of mismanagement of funds by government, which could have caused the delay. It is common knowledge, that road construction is the main source of kickbacks and corrupt income for senior state officials. Which raises an important question – will economic and social benefits of this fine new road be enough to cover the costs for the huge loans, which are likely to be misused? I certainly hope they will.
PS: A road-planning engineer involved in the construction told a friend of mine, that there are plans to make the Gyumri – Yerevan road shorter by as much as 25 kilometers. And the speed limit of the road is going to be 100 km/h, which is higher than current 70/90 km/h speed limits on various sections of the current road. So the road is good news for frequent Gyumri-Yerevan travelers like me, even though there are rumors, that users of the highway will be charged a special travel fee.