TIRANA, Albania (AFX) - Albania approved a euro250 million ($317 million) contract with a U.S. company to build a four-lane stretch of highway that will make it easier to reach neighboring Kosovo, the government said Thursday.
Bechtel International Inc., based in San Francisco, will build the 35-mile road segment, which will include a nearly 4-mile tunnel, the government said in a statement.
Work on it will begin next month and more details on the project will be made available in the coming days, officials said.
Kosovo, a U.N.-run province in Serbia, is important to Albania because most of the tourists visiting the western Balkan country are ethnic Albanians from Kosovo and Macedonia as well as expatriate Albanians returning from other parts of Europe.
The portion of the highway being built by Bechtel is part of a larger 105-mile highway to Kosovo.
The completed highway will run from the port city of Durres -- 20 miles west of the capital Tirana -- to the town of Kukes, 125 miles northeast of Tirana, and then to the Morina border crossing point.
Prime Minister Sali Berisha made it a priority of his government, whose mandate is up in 2009, to construct a new and shorter road linking Albania to Kosovo. Albania, one of Europe's poorest countries, has hopes of one day joining the European Union and NATO.
The new road will be about nearly 30 miles shorter than existing roads and it will shorten travel time, which can now take up to six hours, to two hours.
The current road, which has only two lanes, is full of potholes and winding turns, making it virtually impossible to drive at speeds faster than 25 mph on average.
The new road will be funded from the domestic budget but also with loans from international financial institutions, officials said.
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