By Emil Danielyan
Armenia will build a second highway leading to Iran which will allow for a sizable increase in cargo traffic between the two neighboring countries, President Robert Kocharian’s office announced Tuesday.
A statement by the presidential press service said work on the new road will start in April and finish next year. It said the Armenian government will spend 6.6 billion drams ($14 million) for that purpose this year.
Details of the project were discussed on Tuesday by Kocharian and Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian. A photograph released by the press service showed the two men leaning over what looked like a map of Armenia’s southeastern Syunik region bordering Iran.
“President Robert Kocharian instructed the minister of transport and communications to keep the construction under daily control, emphasizing that it must be built properly and on time,” the statement said.
The new road will stretch from Syunik’s administrative capital Kapan to Meghri, a small town on the Iranian border. The two towns are already connected by a 50-kilometer highway than runs through the Kajaran mountain pass, the highest in Armenia. It is narrow and often impassable in winter months, complicating Armenian-Iranian trade.
Kocharian’s office said the maximum capacity of heavy trucks traveling along the existing Kapan-Meghri highway is 36 tons. The new road would raise to it 80 tons, it added.
Government sources told RFE/RL that the project discussed by Kocharian and Manukian is a much cheaper alternative to the idea of building a tunnel under the Kajaran pass which has long been discussed by the Armenian and Iranian governments. The tunnel is estimated to cost at least $30 million.
The decision to build the highway comes after an Armenian-Iranian agreement to look into the possibility of constructing a railway that would directly connect the two countries. The idea was discussed during Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s visit to Tehran earlier this month.
Its implementation would be hugely expensive due to Syunik’s high altitude and mountainous terrain. Still, officials in Yerevan say the rail link could turn Armenia into a major transit route in Iran’s trade with Russia, Ukraine and the rest of Europe.
In related move, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian criticized Russia last week for sponsoring the planned construction of a new Russian-Iranian railway that will bypass Armenia and run through Azerbaijan.