The Western Europe-Western China Highway Is Coming Alive In Kazakhstan
The Western Europe-Western China (WE-WC) Highway, which will stretch 8,445 kilometers from the Yellow Sea coast of China to the Baltic Sea at St. Petersburg when fully completed, is showing signs of coming alive in Kazakhstan. The highway is being finished and commissioned in stages and companies are starting to invest along it, planning to open up businesses where previously there was little other than farm land and empty space.
Last week, JSC KazMunaiGas announced that it had purchased ten plots of land along the WE-WC Highway for the construction of large service stations that will include space for partner companies to jump in and set up hotels, restaurants, and campsites.
This may not seem like a very big deal — of course, if a country is going to build a giant expressway they are going to build service stations along it — but this isn’t always a given in Kazakhstan. This is the world’s largest landlocked country, which is 11 times larger than the UK but only has 17 million people. So the distances between the country’s few significant population centers is often vast and scantly populated, and few investors were initially signing up to go out to these far-flung locales to build needed commercial infrastructure on the side of a nascent highway. In fact, companies opening roadside businesses is national news in Kazakhstan.
This conspicuous lack of business activity on previously commissioned sections of Kazakhstan’s span of the WE-WC Highway has not gone unnoticed.
“They have developed a really good quality road but nothing was built on the side,” Stephanie Koole, who did her masters thesis on the WE-WC Highway, said to me last year. “There were no hostels, no restaurants, no gas stations. So what’s the point of having this really shiny road and not have anything on the side?”
Ideally, the impending JSC KazMunaiGas stations along the WE-WC Highway is to ultimately develop public-private partnerships to provide traveler services as well as to help stimulate local economies en route. Previously, the state-owned company has engaged in a program which saw 151 of its gas stations across Kazakhstan transferred to private ownership — which is significant in a country that’s currently undergoing the difficult transition of reforming state-owned enterprises and sparking a more kinetic private service sector.
Construction on the JSC KazMunaiGas service stations is expected to begin next year, as this continent-crossing highway continues taking steps towards developing into the monumental transportation corridor it’s slated to one day become.