By Shakeh Avoyan
Some of the recently repaired streets in central Yerevan will have to be dug up anew after a harsh winter exposed poor quality of the work funded by a leading U.S.-Armenian charity, city authorities said on Saturday.
A large part of new basalt cobblestones covering pavements in the city center came unstuck and are hovering underfoot only months after being put in place by construction firms contracted by the Armenian government and the Lincy Foundation of Armenian-American billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Yerevan Mayor Robert Nazarian said those contractors have been ordered to “rectify their mistakes.” He admitted that “a lack of experience” by the Armenian authorities is also to blame for the problem.
“We thought that everything will be all right and that we will finish the job very quickly,” Nazarian said. “That was probably the reason [for the poor work].”
The sidewalk repairs, which critics see as an extravagance for the cash-strapped country, were part of Lincy’s ongoing $14.4 million project to refurbish major streets in central Yerevan launched last summer. About half of the earmarked funds were utilized by the end of 2002. The entire process, including the selection of contractors, has been directly overseen by President Robert Kocharian’s administration, with the Yerevan municipality having little say in it.
The project’s implementation has been criticized for poor work organization and inconvenience caused to city residents. Many sidewalks were promptly dug up in the summer and were cobbled only several months later. Some of the pavements slated for completion before the start of last winter still lie bare.
Nazarian said the authorities and Lincy have already withheld final payments to those contractors that failed to do the work properly. Some of them may also face hefty fines, he added.
Nazarian also stressed that the problems will not affect the implementation of the second, $8 million phase of the Lincy project which will benefit several major thoroughfares leading to more remote parts of the city. Like the vast majority of Yerevan roads, they have been badly battered by bitter cold and a prolonged period of heavy precipitation, making driving an unusually challenging exercise. Nazarian admitted that the roads have never been in such a deplorable condition.
“Unfortunately, the unprecedented snow and cold winter completely damaged the streets of Yerevan,” he said.
The city authorities have allocated 440 million drams ($746,000) to road repairs from their modest budget. Some of a myriad of potholes are already being filled with fresh asphalt.