YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A multimillion-dollar project designed to upgrade most of Armenia’s main highways and enhance its transport communication with neighboring Iran and Georgia has still not been launched almost one year after being approved by the Armenian government.
Transport and Communications Minister Manuk Vartanian on Friday blamed the delay on the government’s failure so far to find foreign contractors offering reasonable prices.
The project, estimated to cost around $1 billion, envisages the expansion and repair of roads stretching from the Armenian-Iranian border to one of the two main Armenian-Georgian border crossings.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) agreed in September 2009 to finance it with a $500 million loan to be disbursed to the Armenian government. It said the rest of the sum will be raised by Yerevan and “other development partners.”
Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan’s cabinet gave the final green light to the scheme in January 2010. The then Economy Minister Nerses Yeritsian said up to $120 million worth of construction work will be carried out in the course of this year.
The government subsequently called an international tender for the right to upgrade the first highway section.
“A tender took place [in November] but we declared no winners because the submitted bids were quite expensive,” Vartanian told journalists. He said the government will call another tender this spring.
Vartanian also revealed that he has personally written to two dozen “authoritative foreign construction firms” urging them to bid for the project contracts. “Local builders can not construct such a highway,” he said. “It’s going to be a new highway meeting higher standards.”
The ADB also approved in 2009 $500 million in funding for road construction in southern Georgia and the Black Sea region of Ajara in particular. The Armenian and Georgian governments had earlier agreed 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.