The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other Western donors have allocated 22 million euros ($25 million) in funding for badly needed repairs of streets in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri.
The EBRD will finance most of the project with a 14.6 million-euro loan disbursed to the Armenian government on Wednesday.
“The project will be co-financed by investment grants to a total amount of 7.3 million euros provided by the EBRD Special Shareholder Fund (SSF) and other international donors,” the London-based bank said in a statement on a loan agreement signed by its managing director for Eastern Europe, Francis Malige, and Armenia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vache Gabrielian.
“The street rehabilitation program will include new asphalt pavements, upgraded drainage infrastructure, improved facilities for pedestrians and overall road safety improvements,” said the statement. “The street lighting refurbishment will introduce new energy-efficient LED lighting, a control and monitoring system, pole replacement and renovation as well as power cable replacement.”
“The new LED lighting is expected to cut the cost of energy consumption significantly and will result in annual electricity cost savings for the municipality,” added the EBRD.
Gyumri’s roads have been in an increasingly poor condition in the last few years. Most of them are now dotted with deep potholes and thick layers of mud. Some streets are practically impassable, placing residents of nearby buildings beyond the reach of public transport and taxis.
With the tacit approval of the municipal administration, the city council drew up in 2014 a list of six major streets that were in a particularly urgent need of repairs estimated to cost $2.6 million. The central government rejected the council’s request to finance the road works, citing a lack of funds.
The rebuff only added to a growing sense among local residents that they are paying the price for President Serzh Sarkisian’s poor showing in Gyumri during Armenia’s last presidential election held in February 2013. Most of them voted for the main opposition candidate, Raffi Hovannisian, at the time.
In 2013, the government also effectively froze the protracted construction of new homes for hundreds of Gyumri families still living in temporary shelters 27 years after a catastrophic earthquake that ravaged their city. Government officials denied any political motives behind those decisions.
Just two days before the December 2015 referendum on his controversial constitutional changes, Sarkisian announced that the government will spend $25 million on capital repairs of Gyumri’s streets and lighting network. He also promised free housing to hundreds of local families who lost their homes in the 1988 earthquake.
Despite the last-minute promise, most local voters rejected the constitutional amendments seen as vital for Sarkisian’s political future. Gyumri was one of Armenia’s few urban communities where the Central Election Commission (CEC) registered a “No” vote in the nationwide referendum.