KATHMANDU, NEPAL – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is to help upgrade key sections of Nepal’s East West Highway to allow year-round travel along the country’s main transport route, which lies along a South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation (SASEC) corridor.
“The more than 1,000-kilometer-long East West Highway connects many of Nepal’s main cities as well as provide a vital link to neighboring India,” said Witoon Tawisook, Transport Specialist with ADB’s South Asia Department. “Making it passable in all weather conditions is crucial for reducing travel time and improving connectivity and economic activity both at home and with neighboring countries.”
ADB is providing a $75 million equivalent loan for the SASEC Road Connectivity Project, which will upgrade to all-weather standard more than 70 kilometers (km) of bypass and border roads along the East West Highway. This includes a new section connecting the new bridge over the Koshi River at Chatara, which will reduce weather-related traffic disruption. The current route across the Koshi Barrage in Sunsari District is sometimes closed by heavy flooding in the rainy season, forcing motorists to take time-consuming alternate roads.
The project will also upgrade over 100 km of feeder roads which are part of the Mid-Hill Corridor, a 1,700 km east-west stretch of road linking mid-hill districts to main cities, including Kathmandu and Pokhara. The feeder roads earmarked for improvement include Leguwaghat to Bhojpur; Halesi to Diktel; Mechipul to Birtamod; and Manthali to Ramechhap. Many sections are just dirt tracks and providing all-weather surfaces will give remote hill communities faster and easier access to markets and basic services, as well as open up new economic opportunities.
The project targets a near-doubling of the movement of people and goods along upgraded roads by 2018, a 25% reduction in average travel time on hill roads, and cross-border land cargo volumes along the east-west route rising 10% by 2022.
Climate change, including the threat posed by melting glaciers, is a rising worry for Nepal and the project incorporates design measures including higher road embankments and bridges, improved drainage systems and road surfaces, and eco-friendly slope strengthening techniques to guard against floods and other weather-related problems.
The project is part of the broader SASEC Program, designed to boost connectivity and closer economic cooperation among Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal. The road upgrades are expected to be completed in December 2018 and will cost $97 million, including a $22 million contribution from the Government of Nepal.
Along with its loan, ADB will also provide a technical assistance grant of $500,000 to help the Department of Roads, Department of Transport Management, and Roads Board Nepal provide road maintenance operations that are more sustainable than at present.