YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian government gave the final green light on Thursday to a multimillion-dollar project designed to upgrade most of Armenia’s main highways and facilitate its transport communication with neighboring Iran and Georgia.
The government formally endorsed a deal with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which agreed in September to finance the eight-year project’s implementation with a $500 million loan. It will go to pay for the expansion and repair of roads stretching from the Armenian-Iranian border to one of the two main Armenian-Georgian border crossings.
The Manila-based bank estimated the project’s total cost at $962 million, saying that the rest of the sum will be raised by Yerevan and “other development partners.”
Trade and Economic Development Minister Nerses Yeritsian told fellow cabinet members that the government expects to receive the first $60 million installment of the ADB soon and another tranche later this year. He said up to $120 million worth of construction work will be carried out in the course of 2010.
“The reconstruction and development of this road corridor will enable us to facilitate and spur both internal and external cargo traffic and trade,” said Yeritsian. “The project’s implementation will also result in regional transit roads.”
The ADB also approved in September $500 million in funding for the ongoing road construction in southern Georgia and the Black Sea region of Ajara in particular. The Armenian and Georgian governments agreed in 2008 to jointly seek external assistance for rebuilding highways in those areas to substantially shorten travel between Armenia and the Georgian Black Sea coast.
Armenian officials have said that another aim of the infrastructure upgrades in the two South Caucasus states is to make it much easier for neighboring Iran to use Armenian territory for freight shipments to and from Georgia and other countries.