RENEWAL Twenty-five years of fighting have left the road from Kabul to Torkham in a state of disrepair. Extensive de-mining is needed.
(Photo courtesy of the Berger Group)

A Chinese construction company has won the first major construction contract of the second road reconstruction package of work available in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime two years ago.

The China Railway Shisiju Group has taken a $30.6-million contract to rehabilitate a 72-km section of the Kabul-Torkham road between Jalalabad and the notoriously dangerous village of Sarobi. The Torkham-Jalalabad-Kabul highway is the main artery into Afghanistan from Pakistan. A quarter-century of hostilities has left it in a desperate state of repair.

The road was used heavily by tanks and armored vehicles during the Soviet-Afghan war. As a result, there is severe corrugation along much of the route.

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The contract is due to be finalized this week, according to sources close to the project. Working for the Afghan transitional government, the Swedish office of international consultant WSP Group LLC has been carrying out design services for the rehabilitation of the 227-km road since September 2002.

Last year, WSP supervised emergency grading as an interim measure to help maintain traffic flow.

Extensive de-mining work also is continuing along the route. Competitively bid rehab construction packages for the road will soon be let for the Kabul-Sarobi and Jalalabad-Torkham segments.

The entire highway route includes about 125 bridges, 475 culverts, 35 "Irish crossing" protective erosion barriers and 10 tunnels varying in length from 20 to 100 m.

"At points, the road is barely passable and slope instability is another major problem," says Rolf Gustafsson, WSP project manager. "In the mountain areas, there is a lot of potential for down-slope mass movements of rock and soil, including creep, slope slides and debris flows."

However, when work begins next year, the biggest single challenge facing the contractor will be security. Sarobi and the nearby Tangi Valley are considered among the most dangerous areas of the country. The are mentioned almost every week in the reports put out by the Afghanistan Non-Governmental Organisation Security Office.