By Hrach Melkumian
President Robert Kocharian inaugurated on Thursday a major bridge near Yerevan that has been expanded for traffic with the financial assistance of U.S.-Armenian billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.
Kerkorian’s Lincy Foundation has provided $1.78 million for the construction of the second section of the bridge over a deep canyon outside the town of Ashtarak. It stretches along one of Armenia’s main highways that runs from Yerevan to the Georgian border.
“I am in a good mood today and am confident that we will see the economic impact [of the project] within a year,” Kocharian told reporters after the opening ceremony. “I think that we have never seen such a quality of construction work before.”
The first two-lane section of the Ashtarak bridge, which is 365 meters long, was built in 1994. Work on its parallel second component stalled for lack of funds shortly afterwards.
Its construction is part of large-scale infrastructure projects in Armenia sponsored by Lincy. The U.S.-based charity provided a total of $150 million for that purpose in 2001. The sum is worth about a third of the Armenian government’s annual budget.
Nearly half of it is due to be spent on the construction or repair of hundreds of kilometers of roads across the country as well as the renovation of major streets in the center of Yerevan. Officials in charge of these projects say they will meet the November 1 deadline for their completion.
“We are going to have a very busy autumn in terms of tape-cutting ceremonies,” Kocharian said. He skirted a question on whether he expects more multimillion-dollar aid from Kerkorian’s foundation in the coming years.