Revitalising roads: The Road Transport Corridors Project is scheduled to come on-line

In December 2015 the Road Transport Corridors Project – a $230m World Bank initiative to upgrade Tunisia’s interior roads – was launched. The project’s main purpose is to improve three key road corridors that connect lagging interior regions with Tunisia’s coastal economic growth poles, where opportunities for advancement tend to be concentrated. The bank hopes the project will reduce travel times and vehicle operating costs, as well as improve road safety, along the corridors.

The project aims to widen and upgrade 146 km of existing single-lane national and regional roads along three key corridors: a 57-km stretch of National Road 12 connecting Kairouan to the coastal resort city of Sousse; a 65-km stretch of National Road 4 between El Fahs and Siliana in the central west region; and 24 km of Regional Road 133 between Djebel Oust and Zaghouan. Designs for construction are already complete, and include measures to ensure road safety, including the improvement and/or installation of 17 bridges, 230 culverts and 52 road intersections, and the addition of traffic signs.

Road Infrastructure

The World Bank is financing $200m of the project through an infrastructure loan, while the Tunisian government will raise the funds for the remaining $30m. In addition to underwriting the bulk of the project, the World Bank is providing implementation support to the Tunisian government – specifically the Ministry of Equipment, Habitat, and Land Planning (MEHLP) and the General Directorate of Roads and Bridges – to help the project come to fruition. The bank also hopes to help strengthen the ministry’s capacity for longer-term road asset management.

For its part, the Tunisian government has declared it will be responsible for all project management as well as acquisition of necessary land for the project. The government will therefore acquire the land necessary to widen the road, procure the services necessary to engineer and construct the road, then manage the project as it is implemented. The project is expected to be completed by 2020, provided the government manages road construction and improvements according to the foreseen timetable.

A separate grant of €815,760 will fund maintenance, management and performance-based contracting to better administer maintenance. The aim of this road maintenance grant is to support the transformation of the MEHLP’s management of road networks and plan public investment. This subcomponent grant will be financed by the MENA Multi-Donor Trust Fund, and is expected to be completed by March 31, 2017.

The project should help bring needed capital investment to its target corridors. This could contribute to reducing disparity between Tunisia’s coastal economic growth hubs and its comparatively agricultural hinterlands, where nationwide protests from frustrated jobseekers, particularly unemployed youths, have tended to originate. Examples include the 2011 Tunisian revolution itself, as well as more unrest including protests and riots in January 2016 following the suicide of a 28-year-old unemployed graduate from Kasserine.

Private Sector Funding

According to the World Bank, Tunisia’s private sector has expressed its willingness to invest in disadvantaged regions once transport connectivity improves, citing high transport costs and reduced mobility as impediments to further investment in these regions. In the medium and long term, the hope is that the project will have significant benefits beyond the expansion of the country’s road network, by accelerating Tunisia’s sustainable growth, creating much-needed jobs and promoting greater economic and social inclusion across the country.