Transport Minister Vahan Martirosian acknowledged on Wednesday that an ambitious project to upgrade Armenia’s main highways stretching more than 550 kilometers to Georgia and Iran has fallen behind schedule due to poor management.
The North-South transport project worth an estimated $1.5 billion is aimed at facilitating the landlocked country’s access to the Georgian and Iranian ports. It is also designed to enable Iran to use Armenian and Georgian territory for large-scale freight shipments to and from Europe.
In 2009, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) lent the Armenian government $500 million for the planned road upgrades. Only two highways connecting Yerevan to the towns of Ararat and Ashtarak have been expanded and repaved to date, costing $70 million. Their total length of is about 50 kilometers.
Work on about 120 kilometers of other roads running further southeast and northwest of the Armenian capital is due to be finished in 2018.
In 2015, the government also borrowed $150 million from the Kazakhstan-based Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) to rebuild a 20-kilometer road currently running through Armenia’s highest mountain pass close to the Iranian border. Most of that money is to be spent on the construction of a 4-kilometer tunnel.
Martirosian could not say when the entire project initiated by President Serzh Sarkisian could be completed. “I can’t speak right now of any time frames as to when it will be complete,” he told reporters.
He admitted that some of the planned roadworks “have slightly fallen behind schedule.” “We are working with concrete contractors in connection with that,” he said.
Martirosian, who was appointed as minister in October, insisted that the expensive project has not been a failure. “It’s just that it probably was not or is not correctly managed,” he said. “We certainly have some work to do there.”