Mittwoch, 1. Juli 2009

Highway opens up Albania for Kosovars

Highway opens up Albania for Kosovars

By Kerin Hope in Tirana and Neil MacDonald in Belgrade

Published: June 25 2009 01:46 | Last updated: June 25 2009 01:46

A spectacular 61km section of highway through mountainous northern Albania opens on Thursday, creating a strategic link with fellow ethnic Albanians in landlocked Kosovo. For Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia last year, the modern four-lane route is a vital commercial link through a friendly country.

At more than €600m (£510m, $840m) the new stretch of road will cut the eight-hour journey between Tirana and Pristina by at least two hours, according to Ernest Noka, Albania’s deputy transport minister.

It was the toughest construction challenge on a corridor linking Albania’s Adriatic port of Durres with the Balkan interior and pan-European motor routes.

Türk Ministerpraesident Rexhep Taip Erdogan

Shpend Ahmeti, director of the Institute of Advanced Studies, an economic think-tank in Pristina, said Durres could become a serious rival to Greece’s Thessaloniki, bringing down shipping costs for all the Balkans once other road sections had been upgraded.

“This is the highway of hope, of trust, of work and development for [ethnic] Albanians,” said Hashim Thaci, Kosovo prime minister. Albania hopes the road will also bring tourists to the relatively underdeveloped Adriatic coastline. Albania attracted about 1m tourists last year, mostly from its landlocked neighbours Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia.

“The opening comes right at the start of the tourist season. We expect about 6m people will travel this route from now to the end of the year,” Mr Noka said.

The new section of highway – financed by the Albanian government after multilateral institutions said traffic levels would be too low – includes twin tunnels, each 5.6km long, and two bridges over rocky gorges. It is quite an achievement in a country notorious for poor infrastructure. But other sections of the 170km route between Tir­ana and the Kosovo border still have to be upgraded and Albania’s right-of-centre government of Sali Berisha, prime minister, faces criticism on spending overruns.

The highway is set to cost Albania’s taxpayers more than €1.1bn, double the budgeted €550m and contribute to a projected deficit this year and next.

Kosovo lacks funds for its promised four-lane art­ery extending north to Serbia, estimated at €650m or more. The government hopes to attract private in­vestors, but the timing is bad in the global crisis. The priority would be the southern 15km up to Priz­ren to avoid bottlenecks at the end of Mr Berisha’s road.

He also hopes the opening of the new section – built by a joint venture between Bechtel of the US and Turkey’s Enka group – will boost his chances in a general election on Sunday.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

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