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Kyrgyzstan's next north-south highway expected to boost economy

Kyrgyzstan's next north-south highway expected to boost economy

A coming highway is meant to transform the Kyrgyz economy, historically hampered by a forbidding mountain range dividing north from south.

Construction began at the end of March 2014 on the 433km highway, designed to connect Balykchi, Issyk-Kul Province, to Jalal-Abad city.

The government expects the project to cost US $850m (52.3 billion KGS), and for construction to be completed at the end of 2018.

Kyrgyzstan is carrying out the first of three phases and negotiating with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to obtain funding for the project's second phase.

Long-term benefits expected

Having a second north-south route will help stimulate mining in Naryn and Jalal-Abad provinces, which are home to large mineral deposits, Kyrgyz economist Erkin Abdyrazakov told Central Asia Online.

"The new road will allow us to significantly decrease the cost of mining coal in Kara-Kech, gold in Makmal and uranium in Min-Kush and to cut costs associated with the Kambar-Ata and Toruz-Torouz hydropower plants," he said. "It'll improve those regions' economy."

The new highway will shorten the trip from Balykchi to Jalal-Abad by 330km, Abdyrazakov said, adding that it would also take traffic off the overburdened Bishkek-Osh highway.

"The tunnel at Too-Ashuu is rated to handle 446 automobiles in a 24-hour period," Abdyrazakov told Central Asia Online. "In practise, several times that figure -- 3,500 vehicles -- are allowed daily, which violates regulations, damages the road and makes [it] dangerous."

Officials are eyeing considerable economic benefits once the new highway opens.

The future highway will enable mining corporations to reach gold, coal, uranium and other resources in hard-to-reach mountainous areas, Transport and Communications Minister Kalykbek Sultanov said last June.

It will also open up more land in Naryn and Jalal-Abad provinces to farming, he said.

Prime Minister Joomart Otorbayev considers the coming highway a powerful economic tool.

"It'll increase our economic activity and investment potential for our less developed areas," he said last June on a trip to Naryn Province. "Without high-quality roads, accomplishing that is impossible."

The country has signed a contract with Polish investors to build an auto assembly plant in Naryn Province, a good start for a predominantly rural province, he said.

The Polish project will serve as an example for other countries interested in investing their own money, he said.

The highway's planned connections to Kazakhstan and to Tajikistan will boost the tourism industry into "one of the most profitable" for Kyrgyzstan, Otorbayev said.