The Asian Highway network is a regional transport cooperation initiative aimed at enhancing the efficiency and development of the road infrastructure in Asia, supporting the development of Euro-Asia transport linkages and improving connectivity for landlocked countries.
The Asian Highway network now comprises over 141,000 km of roads passing through 32 member countries. The network extends from Tokyo in the east to Kapikule, Turkey in the west and from Torpynovka , Russian Federation, in the north, to Denpasar, Indonesia in the south.
The Asian Highway project was initiated in 1959 with the aim of promoting the development of an international road transport system in the region. From 1960 to 1970, potential routes were identified and analysed. However, the progress was slow until political and economic changes in the region spurred renewed interest in the network in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Under a renewed initiative of the Commission, the Asian Land Transport Infrastructure Development (ALTID) project was launched in 1992. The project provided a framework for the development of a region-wide integrated transport network comprising of road and rail networks. A series of studies for the development and formulation of the Asian Highway network covering all subregions was conducted between 1994 and 2002. These studies, together with a series of meetings of the member countries at the subregional level, helped to build consensus on an agreed network.
The formalization of the network was initiated in 2002. The ESCAP secretariat worked with national governments to develop the International Agreement on the Asian Highway Network, which was adopted on 18 November 2003 and entered into force on 4 July 2005. The agreement includes a list of Asian Highway routes and classification and design standards.
Some of the major benefits of the Agreement include:
- Basis for coordinated development of road networks at regional, sub-regional and national levels;
- Interest in greater connectivity at the regional/subregional level which subsequently led to the development of subregional networks;
- Common design and technical standards for highway development for regional roads, which was later adopted by many sub-regional organizations;
- Enhanced domestic and road transport connectivity that has been supporting the growth of national economies and inter-country trade;
- Better negotiating position of Member States to secure financing by development banks as well as to maintain minimum design standards; and
- Greater interest of development banks in financing road projects of regional importance.
ESCAP continues to promote the development of the Asian Highway Network as part of its overall goal to see the development of an international, integrated, intermodal transport and logistics system for the region, with the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway networks and dry ports of international significance as major components.