Central Asia improves ailing road infrastructure


BISHKEK (TCA) — Well-developed infrastructure is a critical factor in economic development, international experts say. Motor roads in Central Asia require significant repairs, the OECD Central Asian Analytical Network reports, adding that 60% of roads in Kyrgyzstan, 54% in Kazakhstan, 48% in Tajikistan and 23% in Uzbekistan do not have asphalt or concrete cover.

The Central Asian states impose their infrastructural hopes on China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, in which Central Asia is of key importance. But it should not be forgotten that the growth of public external debt (PED) to China is rapid there, especially in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, where the PED growth is exceeding the safe level, which imposes certain risks and obligations on bilateral cooperation.

According to the Global Competitiveness Index for 2017/18 presented by the World Economic Forum, Tajikistan ranks 70th out of 137 world economies in terms of the road quality. The country scored 4.1 out of 7 points, and ranked the highest in Central Asia above Kazakhstan (115th) and Kyrgyzstan (122nd). No ranking was provided for Uzbekistan.

Most roads in Tajikistan were rebuilt after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The main exception is in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province (GBAO), where Soviet-era roads are in poor condition, Asia-Plus IA reported.

To compare, Kazakhstan held the 107th place a year ago. This year, Russia rose to 114th place from the 123rd in the previous survey.

The WEF experts also noted the trend towards improving the quality of roads in Kyrgyzstan.

The transport infrastructure is actively developing in the country, Economy Minister of Kyrgyzstan Oleg Pankratov said. In 2017, 566.7 kilometers of public roads were repaired. About 540 kilometers are planned to repair this year.

Within investment projects, construction of 146 kilometers of highways will be completed to connect international transport corridors.

Toll roads in Kyrgyzstan

In Central Asian countries, roads are the main means of communication. The states allocate some funds for their construction and maintenance, but they are critically lacking. To find money, the governments decided to introduce toll roads.

Since 2019, fees for the use of certain roads may be introduced in Kyrgyzstan, and the Minister of Transport and Roads is currently harmonizing regulatory documents, Minister Jamshitbek Kalilov said. To reduce the burden on the state budget and as part of the road development strategy, the Transport Ministry intends to introduce 26 kilometers of toll roads in 2018 and to bring this figure to 500 kilometers by 2025.

The Kubaky–Kochkor road in the Naryn province, the North–South alternative road and the Bishkek–Tokmak bypass route will be the toll ones.

Currently, all roads in Kyrgyzstan are free, except for the tunnel at the Too-Ashuu Pass at the Bishkek–Osh road.

To reduce the personal participation in accepting payments for road travel, and therefore the possibility of corruption, the Transport Ministry installs automated systems for accepting payments at two checkpoints at the Bishkek–Osh highway. Payment will be made through the bank payment systems.

Toll highways in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan plans to increase the share of toll roads of state importance up to 72% by 2023.

This year, the country continues implementation of 23 projects to reconstruct 4.2 thousand kilometers of highways of national importance. The construction of the Center–South corridor between Astana and Almaty and the Center–East corridor between Astana and Ust-Kamenogorsk will continue.

Local population often complains about the road quality. Uneven distribution of funding is the main cause of the situation, experts say. Money was allocated primarily to the highways of national importance, while the regional roads were financed by a residual principle. Corruption and a chain of intermediaries are the other causes of the problems, informburo.kz reports.

This year, it is planned to introduce about 500 kilometers of toll roads. There is now only one toll road, Astana – Schuchinsk, in Kazakhstan.

The cost of road construction is manifolds higher in Kazakhstan compared to other countries, informburo.kz said. Thus, the construction of one kilometer of roads in Kazakhstan costs an average of $3.7 million, while in the US – $2.4 million, in Spain – $1.6 million, in Finland – 1.4 million, and in China – $1.2 million.

Roads in Bishkek

According to the first phase of the road improvement project implemented through China’s grant, the works carried out at 11 streets have been 70% completed, including the busiest sections of Bishkek roads on Chui Avenue near the Osh Bazaar and along the Southern Highway, the Bishkek city administration said.

The reconstruction of the remaining roads will be completed by October 2018. In parallel, the second project on reconstruction of street network development is underway, and existing roads are reconstructed and expanded, including seven bridges. Implementation of the two projects will improve the city traffic and ecology.

Protracted construction

To continue repair of the road along to the resort area of Issyk-Kul Lake (Balykchy–Tamchy– Cholpon-Ata–Corumdu), 700 million soms were allocated, which is 60% of the total state funds for the reconstruction of roads in Kyrgyzstan for 2018.

Construction of the highway has been continuing since 2015. During this time, the 104 km road was rebuilt only by 34%.

At such rates, the facility’s construction is becoming protracted, although initially it was announced as the main road project to be fully executed at the expense of the state budget.

The State cannot complete the road due to the lack of financing. Initially, the construction of the road was planned for the money from the sale of the MegaCom mobile operator but the state-owned company has not been sold so far.

According to official figures, the total construction cost of the Balykchy–Corumdu highway exceeds 2.7 billion soms. Of these, 140 million were transferred to the general contractor, the Chinese company Longhai Road & Bridge Co., Ltd. this year.