The long-awaited repairs of battered streets in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri, which will cost about 24 million euros ($25.2 million), will get underway in 2017, officials said on Friday.
Gyumri Mayor Samvel Balasanian and Armenian Finance Minister Vartan Aramian signed a joint memorandum on the impending launch of the large-scale rehabilitation program to be financed by Western donors. Most of the money -- a 14.6 million-euro loan -- will come from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).
The sum will be spent on refurbishing 16 kilometers of streets and roads, installing new and energy-efficient lighting there, and upgrading the municipal drainage infrastructure. Balasanian said the first phase of the project worth 8 million euros will be implemented in the course of 2017.
Gyumri’s roads have been in an increasingly poor condition in the last few years. Some streets are practically impassable, placing residents of nearby buildings beyond the reach of public transport and taxis.
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 2013. Most of them voted for the main opposition candidate, Raffi Hovannisian, at the time.
Just two days before a 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.Despite the last-minute promise, most local voters rejected the amendments.
Balasanian, who was controversially reelected for a second term in October, denied any political considerations behind the project.
The Gyumri municipality’s 2017 budget is projected at a modest 3 billion drams ($6.2 million). The planned construction may thus give a major boost to the economically depressed city that has still not fully recovered from a devastating 1988 earthquake.
Some local observers say that the government should take more measures such as tax breaks in order to stimulate economic activity in Gyumri. Aramian spoke out against the idea, saying that it would only place an additional financial burden on the state.
“Russia created at least 52 free economic zones and most of them ended in failure because they were poorly planned,” the minister told reporters. “They were mainly used for tax evasion schemes.”