The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded the Louis Berger Group, East Orange, N.J., a project management contract for a range of infrastructure work in war-battered Afghanistan. The key item in the program is designing and managing the reconstruction a severely damaged major highway, which runs from Kabul to Kandahar to Herat.

USAID didn't disclose the value of the contract, which was signed on Sept. 30, but not announced until Oct. 7. Funds must be approved by Congress.

A Louis Berger official says the firm will act as the general contractor for USAID and handle design and subcontracting. Elements include repairing transportation infrastructure and irrigation facilities as well as restoring electrical transmission and distribution and upgrading water and sanitation systems. Click here to view map

Deputy USAID Administrator Frederick W. Schieck says the agency "is undertaking many important activities [in Afghanistan] including irrigation, agriculture, and repairing schools, health facilities, municipal facilities and more. But road reconstruction is one of the most important." On Sept. 12, President Bush announced that the U.S. would pledge $80 million to aid in rebuilding the highway.

The Berger executive says that on the 300-mile Kabul-Kandahar segment, all six bridges are down or heavily damaged and 186 miles have been reduced to gravel or dirt pavement. USAID says design is expected to begin by mid-October and the roadwork is to be done in about 36 months.

But the Berger official notes, "This is not...doing a project and walking away. Rather, it's to train the Afghans to assume an increasingly higher level of responsibility for implementation of this activity." He says the firm is "expected to use Afghan professionals to the greatest extent possible."