As a transport specialist – and an avid motorist – I travel across Azerbaijan on a regular basis, both for business and pleasure. As such, I can attest that the country’s road infrastructure, particularly along its main transport corridors, has significantly improved over the past 15 years.
The road improvements are not coincidental. Azerbaijan has strong aspirations to become a major regional economic player and an international transit hub, which has prompted the building, reconstruction and rehabilitation of about 12,000 km of roads since the mid-2000s, as well as about 400 bridges. These ambitions have been facilitated by the country’s oil windfall in recent decades, along with financing from international financial institutions, including the World Bank.
The modernization of road management and maintenance practices in Azerbaijan, which were inherited from the Soviet period, has nevertheless proved challenging – but it’s a challenge that everyone welcomes. Indeed, there is a strong consensus that if road maintenance were to be continuously neglected the asset value of the main road network – including highways and national roads – would decline rapidly. For every dollar lost in deferred maintenance, there would be an associated cost of $4 to road users.
At the World Bank, we are working closely with the Government of Azerbaijan to help reform the country’s road maintenance system, which includes improving the management of the roads network. First steps entailed the establishment of seven new regional units with sole responsibility for motorway maintenance. Next steps include the introduction of performance-based contractual relations between these regional units and the National Road Agency.
This year, Azerbaijan’s road maintenance units will continue to perform the same standard set of routine road maintenance and operation activities as last year, with responsibility for monitoring, patrolling, and cleaning, and maintenance of pavements, drainage, signalization, and signage. The difference, going forward, is that they will have to meet agreed contractual service standards and performance indicators.
Regional units will be held responsible for maintaining measurable service levels and will be penalized for each case of non-compliance. The ultimate goal of this new business model is to ensure the highest technical quality of roads and to improve traffic safety.
The National Road Agency is pioneering the introduction of performance-based contractual relations among state-owned infrastructure, transport, and utility companies. In fact, this initiative preceded recent policy dialogue between the Government of Azerbaijan and the World Bank on modernization of corporate governance and performance evaluation practices of state-owned enterprises.
Comprehensive internal and public communications strategies are another important part of the Government’s efforts to improve road management. The internal communications strategy aims to support organizational transformation within the National Road Agency, informing staff about the reform process and answering any questions and concerns they may have.
The public communications strategy will focus on the development of key messages about road maintenance work, driving conditions, safety impacts, and other information for road users. The strategy also aims to encourage road users to inform the National Road Agency about any concerns with road conditions and safety, and road users will be able to provide feedback.
Of course, the success of these reforms and initiatives depends greatly on transparency and trust between the road service providers and road users. Just like me, road users all across Azerbaijan want to be assured that they will get to their destination safely and on time. Ultimately, this is what drives the reform agenda.