Pokhara-Muglin highway to be widened to four lanesThe $254 million project is expected to be completed in 2025.
The widening of the 81-kilometre Pokhara-Muglin highway is expected to improve access for the lake city to international markets like India and Bangladesh.
Pokhara, the gateway to the world-famous Annapurna circuit trekking destination, will also have an international airport by mid-2021. The city is the staging point for trekkers and mountaineers headed for the Himalaya.
The Asian Development Bank has approved a $195 million loan to upgrade the Pokhara-Muglin section of Prithvi Highway which links the lake city to Kathmandu and sub-regional corridors connecting Nepal with India and Bangladesh.
The project is part of a major trade corridor, and feeder roads of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the South Asia Subregional Economic Cooperation, linking Kathmandu with Dhaka and Chittagong through India.
The total cost of the project is $254 million and the government will chip in $59 million. Construction work is expected to start in the last quarter of 2019 with the completion deadline set for 2025.
“The project will boost traffic capacity, reliability and safety of the main road link from Pokhara,” said Johan Georget, transport specialist at the Asian Development Bank. “The four-lane highway will reduce travel time, lower transport costs, and improve access to domestic markets, jobs, and social services,” he said.
“The upgraded highway will also open a wider gateway for Nepal to international markets, especially in India, and facilitate the arrival of tourists to the region of Pokhara and its hinterland.”
According to the statistics of the Ministry of Industry, Tourism, Forest and Environment of Gandaki Province, Pokhara received 900,000 tourists in the last fiscal year ended mid-July. Of the total tourist arrivals, 300,000 were foreign visitors.
The ministry statistics show that there are 656 tourist standard hotels in Pokhara producing 5.45 million room nights annually. Gandaki Province has targeted to draw 2 million tourists annually by 2022 after the international airport is constructed.
Muglin lies about halfway on Prithvi Highway linking Kathmandu and Pokhara, which is 200 kilometres long and takes more than 5 hours. The proposed four-lane highway is expected to reduce travel time by about 20 percent.
The Pokhara-Muglin highway currently handles about 7,400 vehicles daily. As the number of vehicles in the country is expected to quadruple by 2029, upgrading national highways is a priority to support economic development, the multilateral funding agency said in a statement.
Officials said an 8-kilometre section of the 89-kilometre Pokhara-Muglin highway would not be widened to four lanes owing to the geology of the area.
Rock outcroppings at Anbu Khaireni, Middle Marsyangdi Hydroelectric Powerhouse and major settlements hinder road widening, and the Muglin-Anbu Khaireni section may be considered as a separate phase, according to the Asian Development Bank’s report.
The road will be divided by a median, while service lanes in urban areas will improve safety, especially for pedestrians, bicycles, and motorcycle users, it said.
“This is especially important since the country suffers a high rate of almost 16 deaths per 100,000 people due to traffic,” the bank said. “Performance-based maintenance contracts of five years will strengthen road management and maintenance.”
The project will also install a landslide monitoring and management system to strengthen disaster resilience.
Nepal’s economic growth improved to 7.3 percent a year on average between fiscal years 2016-17 and 2018-19, compared with about 3.3 percent in the previous three years.
As a landlocked country, Nepal relies heavily on direct neighbours for international trade, mainly India, which traded 65 percent of Nepal’s imports and exports. But while roads are the predominant mode of transport in Nepal for more than 90 percent of goods and passengers, the density and capacity of the road network remains low.
The bank said that this infrastructure deficiency hampers the economy, resulting in high operating costs and travel times, and impeding the development of competitive supply chains, tourism, and regional integration and trade.