A single, critical roadway was hobbling Kazakhstan’s efforts to expand trade with Asia and Europe – that is changing.

An estimated 30 million tons of cargo is transported across the Caspian Sea each year, with more than a third of it transiting the international port in the Kazakhstan city of Aktau. The city sits in the Mangystau region, which is the source of most of the country’s oil and minerals, and acts as a regional hub for transporting oil to Europe and Asia.

Traditionally, a portion of this cargo traveled over gravel or dirt roads in Mangystau, or highways that were partially paved with severely deteriorated and impassable sections. The road from Aktau to the Beyneu region, which links the international port to the main road system in central Kazakhstan, has been in poor condition for many years.

Trucks required 12 hours to ply this vital 470-kilometer road, braving steep slopes and sharp turns along the way. Travel along the road was slow, expensive and dangerous. In recent years, more than 100 people died in 118 accidents on the road.

In Kazakhstan, this single congested and dangerous road had become a bottleneck to the country’s ambitious plans to expand trade with Europe and Asia via the Caspian Sea.

As part of a regional transport development project, the Asian Development Bank has helped rebuild the Aktau-Beyneu road. The road is one link in a broader initiative, organized under the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) program, which seeks to make it easier to transport goods and people through Central Asia to Europe, Russia, the People’s Republic of China and other parts of Asia.

“To date, we completed the reconstruction of 200 kilometers of the road, which reduced the travel time by half,” said Asem Chakenova, with the Asian Development Bank. “Upon project completion, the travel time should reduce to four hours, and the road safety will also improve.”

Once completed, the new road is expected to double the traffic and cut transportation expenses by half.

An important road

The road improvement project’s broad impact on the country’s trade and economy has yet to be felt but those people who use the thoroughfare have already seen the results.

“The road will not just improve road safety and reduce travel time, but what is more important, is it will improve access to education and health facilities.”

Satzhan Ablaliyev, Senior government official

“This road is very important,” said shopkeeper Arman Bek. “We'll be able to visit our relatives more often now. Also, the delivery of goods to my shop will be easier and less time-consuming.”

Says truck driver Khamit Kuzganov: “Before we could only dream of a good road. Drivers didn’t want to go to Aktau as the road was all in potholes and a real torture both for trucks and drivers. Now we enjoy driving along the new section and look forward to the remaining half.”

The increased traffic is also expected to benefit roadside business: more cafes, gas and service stations will be needed. The road construction employs more than 1,000 people and uses local materials, which supports industries in the area.

“The road will not just improve road safety and reduce travel time, but what is more important, is it will improve access to education and health facilities,” said Satzhan Ablaliyev, a senior government official who deals with roads. “The launch of the road will attract more tourists to the region, which will give an additional drive to its development."