Earlier today (24 September), representatives from the Youth Union of Darkhan, Selenge and Orkhon Provinces held a press conference about financing issues and public anger over the reconstruction of the 205 km long highway between Ulaanbaatar and Darkhan. The road is being renovated with four-lanes and concrete surfaces in accordance with international standards.
According to the representatives, a Facebook group has been created for receiving complaints and problems from the public regarding the construction of the road. To continue their public awareness campaign, they plan to hold a photo exhibition on Ulaanbaatar’s Sukhbaatar Square on 15 October to the show process of road construction and the many potholes which have caused so many accidents in the past. According to the group, more than 300 people have died and other 100 have been injured in over 200 accidents on the road between Darkhan and Ulaanbaatar in the first half of 2019 alone! In addition, 57 criminal cases have been filed in connection with road accidents.
Although reconstruction is essential, it has created many economic problems: transportation costs between Darkhan and capital have risen – this has also impacted on the price of vegetables from the north, which are sold in Ulaanbaatar; railway tickets must be booked two days in advance and taxi fares have risen from MNT 20,000 to MNT 50,000. Currently, people spend over 10 hours to get to Selenge province from Ulaanbaatar.
The main transit route connecting the capital with the north has been under total reconstruction since 1 June. Prime Minister U.Khurelsukh attended the opening ceremony for the construction of the road and promised it would be open before November 1. However, many problems have arisen since construction began. For example, during the annual Naadam festival in July, there were chaotic transportation problems due to the increase in vehicles and agonizing delays. After that, the Mongolian Cabinet calmed public for announcing that construction of the road had been completed by 30-40 percent. However, the subcontractor reported that they failed to receive financing on time. The cost of the renovation comes via the government from the Asian Development Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); a total of USD 83.8 million in loans has been allocated for the renovation of the deadliest road in Mongolia.
Built in 1970-1980, the 244 km Ulaanbaatar – Darkhan highway passes through major industrial towns, agricultural regions and tourist camps. The road is of strategic importance, because it is part of the north-south corridor, linking the capital with Russia. Darkhan is the country’s third-largest city.
Due to heavier than planned for usage and lack of maintenance, the road is now heavily damaged and the cause of many accidents – including deaths and life-changing injuries. Nearly 3800 cars use the road daily; the original projected capacity was just 600 a day! During the latter, which takes place in the winter, poor weather conditions including ice and snowstorms make the Darkhan road even more deadly.