US to Train Engineers Repairing Burma’s ‘Death Highway’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 10 June 2014

RANGOON — The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has agreed to help the Burmese government improve safety standards on the Rangoon-Mandalay highway, which has seen several fatal traffic accidents recently, the US Embassy in Rangoon announced Monday.

In a letter of agreement with the Ministry of Construction, USAID has pledged to offer training in international highway safety standards to Burmese ministry engineers and technicians constructing safety enhancements along a 10-kilometer section of the 590-kilometer road with funding from the US government.

The “death highway,” as it is known locally, runs from Rangoon to Naypyidaw to Mandalay. It was completed in 2009 after being hastily ordered by the former military regime. The current quasi-civilian government has called for urgent repairs after 14 people were killed and 30 others were injured in a bus crash on the road last month. So far this year, accidents on the road have killed 80 people and injured 350.

The repairs to the 10-kilometer section of road will serve as a model for ongoing improvements implemented by the Ministry of Construction along the full length of the highway, the US Embassy said in a statement.

“The United States is committed to supporting continued reform and broad-based economic development. As the economy grows, transportation infrastructure will have to accommodate more trade and traffic,” US Ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell said in the statement.

In his monthly radio address this month, President Thein Sein apologized to family members who have lost loved ones in car accidents on the road.

Kyi Zaw Myint, the chief engineer of the highway’s construction management committee, expects the upgrades to cost more than 1 billion kyats, or US$1 million, although an exact cost has not yet been calculated. Forty-four of the 76 bridges on the highway between Rangoon and Mandalay will be upgraded in the first stage of the work, according to the Ministry of Construction.

The US Embassy said the agreement formalizes a partnership that began with a preliminary safety survey in May 2013.

“At the request of the Union Government, USAID engineers assessed the design, traffic volume, vehicle speed, and existing safety measures along the entirety of the highway,” the embassy said. “The assessment concluded that the most effective means to achieve scalable road safety improvements is through technical assistance and training on safety standards, bringing experience and best practices from the United States to help improve the safety and security of the country’s roads.”