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Paving the road to Albania’s regional integration

By Lucia Sconosciuto

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EBRD and EIB pave the road to Albania’s regional integration

Travelling on Albania’s roads is a much better experience than even a decade ago. Extensive investments are gradually and steadily improving the roads’ paving and safety conditions for the increasing number of citizens, traders and tourists that drive in the country every day.
The results are fewer potholes, improved access to markets and lower business costs, longer life and better maintenance for the routes that are repaved to higher standards. 
The EBRD has been involved in rehabilitating and improving key sections of the road network in Albania since 1996. With a total of approximately € 210 million in investments, the Bank has helped construct and rehabilitate 680 km of road and works are ongoing to complete the upgrade of 500 km in rural parts of the country.
The focus of the EBRD’s operations was initially on important segments of strategic routes in urgent need of investments. These include Albania’s north-south and the east-west axes, which are part of Pan-European Corridor VIII, leading from the port of Durrës through FYR Macedonia and Kosovo to end in Varna, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast, and as such are key to foster regional integration.
In 2010, the EBRD became involved in improving Albanian secondary regional and local roads – only 40 per cent of which were paved, with a corresponding impact on rural communities. The €50 million investment to the government of Albania is co-financed by the European Investment Bank (€50 million) and by EU Instrument for Pre-Accession grants (€34.5 million).
This is part of a wider programme worth €400 million to rehabilitate 1,500 km, a full tenth of the country’s entire road network.
“The impact of the project is already visible where works are completed,” said Donald Mishaxhiu, EBRD Senior Banker in charge of the operation.  “For example, local farmers can easily access economic markets, contributing to the competitiveness of their produce.”
 “Before this programme started in 2008, driving 200 km on these roads could take up to five hours of treacherous journey,” said Adriana Kelaj of the Albanian Development Fund, the agency responsible for the implementation of the project.
“By the end of 2014 we have rehabilitated about 1,100 km and the project will be completed by 2016.”
Technical cooperation funds worth €4 million to support the design and the implementation of the project and share expertise were provided by the Western Balkans Investment Framework.
On the outskirts of the capital Tirana, 30,000 inhabitants of rural villages in the municipalities of Sauk, Petrelë and Farkë are now connected by 14.7 km of newly paved road which replaced the previous thin and crumbly asphalt layer.
Such refurbished roads also connect to Tirana East Gate, Albania’s biggest shopping centre, which has an impact on commerce and provides villagers with better access to services.
According to Qerim Fusha, a representative of the municipality of Farkë involved in the committee formed to keep the locals informed, the new roads are bringing new life to the villages where many new houses are being built. 
Albania, now an EU candidate, is becoming a more accessible country and this project is not only contributing to national integration but also paving the road for regional development and providing more opportunities for young Albanians.
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