Dear representatives of Municipalities of Shkoder, Fier and Pogradec,
Dear colleagues of the Albania Development Fund,
Dear representatives of Development Partners,
It is my pleasure to open the launching event for the Regional and Local Roads Connectivity Project, funded by the Government of Albania and the World Bank.
The regional roads network is an integral part of the country’s infrastructure because it can facilitate or restrict access to essential public services and economic centers. It also should respond to the growing demands of the agriculture sector and the emerging and vibrant tourism industry. The Government of Albania has responded to these demands and launched key national strategies, including the successful implementation of a rural roads program in the past decade. However, there was also a recognition that there is still room to consolidate regional roads network improvements in a sustainable manner to enable further economic growth.
The Regional Roads Connectivity Project that we are launching today has been built upon two pillars: (i) reduced time and travel cost due to improved and safer roads and (ii) increasing connectivity with tourism hubs and of accessibility of agriculture producers toward markets and agro-processing centers. It is expected that the Project will lead to positive outcomes and enhanced social inclusion of local communities amounting to some 80,000 people. Moreover, the bottom 40% of this population and women will see increases in income, consumption, better and safer access to health and education services, and job opportunities.
This Project is not meant to be a one-time investment. It has been prepared as an investment framework program – using the same approach as the previous very successful rural roads program -- with a prioritization methodology, focusing on key productive sectors in particular agriculture and tourism. The investment framework is ready for consideration for financing under central and local budgets, or by International Financing Institutions and bilateral donors. In fact, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has recently joined this program.
I would like to mention some specific and innovative aspects the project will support:
First, climate resilient rehabilitation and safety improvement in about 55 km of regional roads, in three to four municipalities, of which Shkoder, Fier and Pogradec are already confirmed. These activities include aspects of flood prevention, safety audit and safety measures like new bicycle paths, sidewalks, road signs and marking.
Second, it will support the preparation of maintenance strategies and multi-year investment planning at municipal level.
And last, the implementation of rural development programs supported by the Government and other development partners, including the recently approved ‘100 villages’ program, by assisting the municipalities to assess market potential at the village level and the productive activities that would yield the highest return, as well as in the preparation of project proposals to leverage grant finance available under rural development programs.
Over the last year I have had the opportunity to visit several municipalities in the country benefiting from Bank-supported projects (such as the Project for Integrated Urban and Tourism Development), including Pogradec and Fier as part of the preparation of this particular Project. I visited project sites with my teams and it does not take much to understand the agro and tourism potentials there, and how the improved infrastructure could help boost their growth.
It is important to understand that limited financing should be used wisely and where it brings the biggest impact and results. I learned from direct discussions with potential beneficiaries and local officials that safer and accessible infrastructure is very important for their well-being and prosperity.
It is with great pleasure to learn that the engineering and technical aspects considered at the design stage, will not only ensure that the improved roads will be safer, but will also provide better and safer access for non-motorized traffic and pedestrians.
It took more than a year for this Project to be prepared and become effective (a much quicker preparation than many), and now the Albania Development Fund and three Municipalities are ready for the start of implementation of its activities. As this Project goes forward, the Bank will be at your side to work in achieving the best results.
I wish to all of you a successful implementation of the Regional and Local Roads Connectivity Project.