Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev inaugurated a new highway connecting the country to its southern neighbor, Iran, on Tuesday.
“The previous Alat-Astara-Islamic Republic of Iran state border highway was 243 kilometers, but the length of the new highway is 204 kilometers,” said the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Azerbaijan Highway State Agency, Saleh Mammadov, according to the Azerbaijan State News Agency.
The four-lane highway is 15 meters in width. Construction was implemented in several phases from 2006 to 2009, and from 2011 to 2018, with the support of several companies from Azerbaijan, Turkey, Italy, Germany and the United States, thanks to loans by the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The highway was reconstructed in accordance with Azerbaijan’s State Program for Development of Districts of the Republic of Azerbaijan and under an agreement signed between the government in Baku and the Asian Development Bank in 2008.
The previous highway connecting the capital Baku’s suburb Alat to Astara was old, worn-out, narrow and uneven, and created many international transportation problems for lorries. Operation of the new highway, which is part of the International North-South Transport Corridor, is expected to encourage development of tourism, agriculture and transportation.
The highway is not the only artery connecting the two countries. The Astara-Astara international railway, connecting two cities of the same name, went into operation in February of this year. The line is essentially a continuation of the Qazvin-Rasht railway, and is also seen as a key part of the International North-South Transport Corridor, linking Iran’s and Russia’s railway systems via Azerbaijan. The Astara-Astara railroad runs eight kilometers in Azerbaijan down to the border with Iran, from where it extends just two kilometers to Iran’s port city of Astara.
The INSTC is expected to incorporate lines that run through Azerbaijan and Russia. The route will connect Iran with Russia’s Baltic Sea ports and give Russia rail connectivity to both the Persian Gulf and India’s vast railway networks. The corridor will substantially cut the travel time for everything from Asian consumer goods, to Central Eurasia’s natural resources, to European exports.
Azerbaijan and Iran have already agreed to reduce tariffs on interstate cargo transit as part of efforts to activate the corridor. When completed, the INSTC is expected to increase the volume of commodities currently traded between Iran and Azerbaijan from 600,000 tons to five million tons per year, dramatically increasing bilateral trade from the current $500 million per year.