A smooth transport connection from Baku to the Georgian border means faster, safer, and more efficient travel, and improved lives in communities along the way.
Gazakhbeyli, Azerbaijan -- Truck driver Azmi Bekar sips tea at one of the dozens of roadside motels that have sprung up in recent years along Azerbaijan’s East-West Highway. For more than 15 years, Bekar has been transporting goods along the 500-kilometer (km) route running from Azerbaijan’s western border with Georgia to the capital city of Baku on the Caspian Sea.
“Before the road was repaired, it took 5 days to drive to Baku and there were many accidents,” he recalls. The journey now takes him 2 to 3 days. Less time on the road means more time with his family. “I have a chance to see my 4-year-old daughter grow up,” he says.
A highway from partnerships
Azerbaijan stands at the crossroads between east and west in the southern Caucasus, and the transport sector plays a central role in the economy.
As one of Azerbaijan’s main routes for external trade, upgrading the East–West Highway was a priority of the Asian Develompent Bank (ADB) supported Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation, or CAREC, Program, under which 11 countries are working together to modernize and expand six road and rail corridors.
“Good roads reduce fuel consumption and the need for frequent car repairs.”
The East–West Highway Improvement Project was a partnership between ADB, the Government of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Development Bank, and the Saudi Fund for Development. It financed the rebuilding of 94 km of the route—39 km between Gazakh and the Georgian border, and 55 km between Yevlakh and Ganja—the final two western sections needed to complete work on the entire 500 km route.
Other segments of the road were improved with assistance from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank. The highway transverses six regions with more than a quarter of a million people benefiting from better, safer, and cheaper transport.
Growing small businesses
For residents of many villages along the highway, travel time to town centers has been halved and their frequency of travel has tripled.
Like her neighbors in Gazakhbeyli village near the Georgian border, Latifa Mirzaliyeva, grows fruits and vegetables.
“We sell our produce at the bazaar in Gazakh town and near the Red Bridge customs post. Before the new road, it took us almost an hour to travel there. Now travel time is 20 minutes and my produce does not get damaged,” she says.
With traffic on the route increasing by about 10% each year since 2006, dozens of small and medium-sized businesses have sprouted along the highway.
“After the Gazakh–Georgia border highway was repaired the number of travelers increased,” says Kanan Abbasov, from Shikhli-2 village. To take advantage of the increased traffic he opened a restaurant with a friend. They now have six staff and serve up to 180 customers a day.
Saving time, money, and lives
Daily cross-border traffic between Azerbaijan and Georgia at the Red Bridge customs crossing reached 3,600 vehicles in 2010, up from 2,300 in 2004.
Taxi driver Mahal Omarov transports passengers from the border to all parts of Azerbaijan. He says it used to take up to four hours to travel 70 km on rough roads similar to the East–West Highway before the project. On the rebuilt highway he covers the same distance in about a quarter of the time. “Good roads reduce fuel consumption and the need for frequent car repairs,” he says.
Saadat Eynalova, a pediatrician at a clinic in Shikhli-2 village, says the new highway also plays a crucial role in saving lives in remote border villages.
“We transport residents with serious health conditions sometimes as far as Baku,” she says. “Quick, safe, and comfortable transport of patients can be a matter of life or death.”
This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.