In 2010, the highest poverty level in Argentina (48 %) was in the north of the country, in an area called Norte Grande, which also had the lowest ratio of paved provincial roads (1.15 km per 1,000 inhabitants versus 2.36 km for the rest of the country). Although the region has great potential for agricultural and industrial activities, increased congestion and high transport costs (50 % higher than in the rest of the country in 2006) hindered Norte Grande´s economic development, which relied heavily on exports and distribution to national markets. The share of the rural population with uninterrupted access to all-weather roads was 24 % for the region and as low as 10 % in some of the region´s provinces (i.e., Tucumán). Furthermore, the region’s Provincial Road Directorates lacked the necessary management tools to effectively plan, administer, and maintain the road infrastructure.
The Norte Grande Road Infrastructure Project was designed to reduce transport costs over the provincial roads within the Norte Grande region by two methods aimed at strengthening the investment planning capacity and management capabilities of the Provincial Road Directorates: enhancing road quality (as part of Argentina’s strategic priority for infrastructure investment and territorial development) and introducing road asset management tools and methods (e.g., road maintenance plans, improved road data collection equipment and systems, etc.).
The project was also designed to improve living conditions for residents along these roads. For example, the project financed the Qom Cultural Route, consisting of various investments aimed to improve the connectivity, entrepreneurial skills, visibility, and accessibility of Indigenous Qom artisans in the province of Chaco.
The project laid an essential foundation for reducing transport costs over the medium to long term through more cost-effective investment programming and maintenance. Between 2011 and 2019, the project contributed to the following key outcomes:
- Generalized travel costs on targeted roads were reduced by 28.6 % by the end of 2019, compared to the 2010 baseline.
- A total of 418 km of rehabilitated (277 km) and upgraded roads (141 km) are regularly used by 10,232 vehicles, and their traffic volume (based on measures of Annual Average Daily Traffic) has increased from 871 vehicles in 2010 to 1,461 vehicles in 2019.
- Driving quality and comfort have improved, with declines in the roads’ roughness index (1.76 in 2019 from the 5.86 baseline in 2010) and end-project satisfaction rates between 77 % and 97 % among surveyed road users.
- The share of the rural population with access to an all-season road (persons living 2 km from a route all year) increased from 24 % in 2010 to 34 % by the end of 2019, representing an increase of 43,000 citizens (from 79,864 to 123,511 people).
- Improvements in 43 km of gravel roads have led to greater connectivity for Indigenous communities, particularly for Qom women.
- Two female-managed community artisan centers were constructed along Route 3 and now benefit approximately 300 Qom women. These centers offer a space for the women to become economically active; the centers help promote the women’s artisan products, allowing them to earn an income, and offer training on business and community organizing and family planning workshops in the Qom language, thus fostering the women’s capacities for action and decision and strengthening their agency.
- The project supported development of Multi-annual Road Maintenance Plans for five provinces, which have allowed the Provincial Road Directorates to analyze overall network investment and maintenance needs. The implementation of Chaco’s Multi-annual Plan resulted in an increase in the share of provincial network roads in good condition from 30 % in 2014 to 63 % in 2018.
- The Provincial Road Directorates now have the tools necessary to regularly collect and use road data (including equipment to measure traffic levels, roughness indexes, etc.) and to confirm the quality of civil works (pavement analysis and bridge capacity software).
Bank Group Contribution
The World Bank, through the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), provided an initial loan in the amount of US$358.8 million to help finance project expenditures. Beyond providing funds, Bank supervision helped enhance the institutional strengthening component and the environmental and social compliance of the road infrastructure by providing road maintenance knowledge and engaging all relevant stakeholders.
The government of Argentina provided counterpart funds in the amount of US$65.9 million. The National Road Directorate and the Provincial Road Directorates of Catamarca, Chaco, Corrientes, Formosa, Jujuy, Misiones, Salta, Santiago del Estero, and Tucumán partnered with the World Bank to implement the project and benefited from the resulting institutional strengthening. Through these partners, local communities, Indigenous peoples, and other stakeholders provided their relevant inputs for designing and implementing the project.
The reduced transport costs benefited the population of the Norte Grande region of Argentina by providing greater connectivity and accessibility to health, education, and economic opportunities. Access to all-weather roads now benefits 43,000 additional citizens, representing an increase of 10 percentage points. Road connectivity has increased women’s access to economic opportunities, reducing gender disparities.
Provincial Road Directorates have also benefited by having improved road design and management tools placed at their disposal through the project, allowing them to better serve the citizens within their jurisdictions.
Rehabilitating and upgrading roads in the Norte Grande region has increased accessibility and reduced transport costs. For these improvements to endure, it is essential that the Provincial Road Directorates efficiently manage the road infrastructure funds they receive from the central government budget. The tools and knowledge acquired by these institutions throughout the lifespan of the project have already improved road planning and management. Implementing the project has shown that rural roads projects can contribute to women’s empowerment and access to economic opportunities, During the design of future infrastructure projects, women’s active participation is highly recommended. Design solutions that include animal passages, first used in Argentina in this project, have now been adopted for road projects elsewhere in the Norte Grande region. The Northwestern Road Development Corridor Project serves as a continuation of this project’s goals, with a focus on connectivity and road safety.