Roads to riches: Improving the road network will boost economic prospects


The economic targets of the country’s Development Strategic Plan (DSP), as well as upcoming international attention in the form of the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in late 2016 and APEC in 2018, are calling for immediate and drastic improvements to the national road network’s coverage and quality. This growth is unlikely to be realised without improvements in two key areas: land and funding.

Because access to land is a major constraint to development throughout Papua New Guinea, however, officials believe it will be necessary to implement the government’s land development programme – meant to improve land administration and land dispute settlement, as well as create a framework for customary tenure and a property market – in order to reduce costs and accelerate the expansion of transport infrastructure. Meanwhile, the DSP advocates financing the improvements through the encouragement of public-private partnerships.

Mountain To Coast

The main highway traversing PNG is the Highlands Highway. A vital artery for the movement of people and goods between the Highlands and the coast, the 700-km stretch of road connects the port of Lae to Mount Hagen before splitting out to Enga Province and the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas oil and gas fields in the Southern Highlands.

Overcoming mountain passes as high as 3000 metres and inclines of up to 24 degrees, the highway also connects the towns of Goroka and Mendi. The highway is limited in places to a single lane due to frequent washouts, and security along some portions is a cause of concern. Nonetheless, the Highland Highway is in good condition when compared to the rest of the country’s roads. Only 40% of the national network’s approximately 8738 km of road is sealed.

Consequently, the focus of most road planning is on the 4256 km of national priority roads – which make up half of all national roads. According to a report published in 2012 by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), more than 75% of national, provincial and district roads are impassable at some point in the year.

An Intermodal Approach 

The ADB and the World Bank are taking the lead in assisting the country in upgrading its land-based transport infrastructure. The ADB’s Country Partnership Strategy Papua New Guinea 2016-20 delineates how, by financing improvements to national roads and priority bridges, particularly the Highlands Highway, the ADB aims to improve movement around the country. Using an intermodal approach, it is financing network improvements across national highways and feeder roads that provide access to ports, piers and jetties. At the same time, it is ensuring investments in land transport are resilient to the impacts of climate change and that all designs allow for safe pedestrian crossings.

For their part, the PNG government and the World Bank – via the International Development Association – have jointly funded a $157m Roads Maintenance and Rehabilitation Project, which runs from 2014 through to 2021. Its primary goals are to improve the quality, condition and safety of priority roads in certain coastal provinces, as well as piloting a maintenance programme for the Hiritano Highway and enhancing economic opportunities for women.

Whether these improvements will be made in time for upcoming international events is unclear. However, if done correctly and well-maintained, this work will keep the country ready to host future events and give an economic boost to citizens currently cut off from the national economy by a lack of road access.

Long-term infrastructure improvements are likely to have a positive knock-on effect on the automotive industry. “We see the automotive business picking up in Lae and Port Moresby over the years to come. Actually based on business volumes, PNG remains at the top of the list within Toyota’s South Pacific regional network, which says a lot about the potential of this market”, Takeshi Abe, CEO of Hela Motors, told OBG.