The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Sunday that the Armenian government has not yet asked it for additional multimillion-dollar funding needed for completing an ambitious project to upgrade Armenia’s main highways stretching over 550 kilometers to Georgia and Iran.
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 was also meant to enable Iran to use Armenian and Georgian territory for large-scale freight shipments to and from Europe.
In 2009, the (ADB) agreed to lend Yerevan up to $500 million for the first phase of the road upgrades.
Only two highways connecting Yerevan to the towns of Ararat and Ashtarak have been expanded and repaved to date, costing $60 million. Their total length of is just over 30 kilometers.
Work on about 120 kilometers of other roads running further southeast and northwest of the Armenian capital is due to be finished in 2019. It is financed not only by the ADB but also the European Investment Bank, the European Union’s lending arm. In 2015, the government also borrowed $150 million from the Kazakhstan-based Eurasian Development Bank (EDB) to rebuild a 20-kilometer road running through Armenia’s highest mountain pass close to the Iranian border.
According to Shane Rosenthal, the head of the ADB office in Yerevan, the Manila-based multilateral lending institution has so far disbursed $330 million in loans for the ongoing roadworks.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Rosenthal said the government has not yet made plans for reconstructing the national highways that mainly pass through the mountainous Vayots Dzor and Syunik provinces in southeastern Armenia. It is therefore not known when the project could be fully implemented, he said.
“The government has a lot of priorities and it’s going to have to decide which is a higher priority: completing this road corridor or investing in education or public services provided in other areas,” argued Rosenthal.
Speaking in March, Transport and Communications Minister Vahan Martirosian also could not say when the expensive project will be completed. Martirosian, who joined the government in October 2016, admitted that some of the planned roadworks have fallen behind schedule due to poor management. He insisted, though, that the project as a whole has not been a failure.
Some Armenian media and civil society groups have alleged corrupt practices during its slow implementation. Rosenthal insisted that the ADB has seen no evidence of corruption among relevant government officials or contractors.