Ten-year project to repair and maintain Papua New Guinea’s critical Highlands Highway to start by year’s end, says Wereh

Work on the ‘most critical’ 90-kilometre section of the Highlands Highway will begin later this year, under an ambitious 10-year repair and maintenance program funded by the Asian Development Bank. Department of Works Secretary David Wereh tells Business Advantage PNG he is already looking to use the funding model to ‘fix’ 16 high priority roads in other parts of the country.

The Highlands Highway Upgrade Project

The Works Department will be advertising for Expressions of Interest from road building companies later this month to gauge interest in the US$1 billion (K3.2 billion) project. The aim is to once and for all make PNG’s main arterial route, the Highlands Highway, a truly international quality highway.

Works Secretary, David Wereh, says he is excited by the project, telling Business Advantage PNG it is ‘workable, because it has long-term funding’.

The funding will come from the Asian Development Bank’s proposed Sustainable Highlands Highway Investment Program, aimed at ensuring that ‘the 430-kilometre of two-lane rural Highlands Highway from Lae Nadzab airport to Kagamuga airport in Mt Hagen, is rehabilitated, upgraded, and effectively maintained.’

‘Of all the roads we have in the country, the Highlands Highway is the most important we have,’ says Wereh.

‘This route from Lae Port, where the main wharf is located, up to the project sites is vital for the country.’

‘It services three-quarters of the population. All the major mining and petroleum projects are located in the region. This route from Lae Port—where the main wharf is located—up to the project sites is vital for the country.’

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Mud slide on the Highlands Highway. Courtesy: Peter Korugi

Seven hundred kilometres in length, the highway begins in Lae, travels through the Markham Valley, then climbs over the 1500 metre-high Kassam Pass to the Eastern Highlands capital, Goroka.

It then goes over the 2478 metre-high Daulo Pass, through Jiwaka Province to the Western Highlands provincial capital Mt Hagen, before splitting into two.

One branch goes through the Southern Highlands’ capital Mendi, finishing at Tari; the other goes through the Enga Provincial capital, Wabag, before finishing at the Porgera mine.

For most of its length, the Highlands Highway is no more than a single carriageway two-lane road, full of pot-holes and prone to huge landslides.


Wereh says the plan is to start drawing down immediately about K1 billion for the most critical 90-kilometre section which runs from the Chimbu-Daulo Pass, going through to the Jiwaka-Chimbu border.

‘By the end of this year, we should have a number of key contracts going out and construction work started.’

‘This is the critical area and we have developed some high engineering standards to deal with these sections. This data and information is built into the design specifications and, whoever the contractor is, they will have to build those roads to these new high standards.

‘By the end of this year, we should have a number of key contracts going out and construction work started.

‘Over the years, we’ve been giving out piecemeal solutions to these sections and the main highways, but we’re now dealing properly with geo-tech and geophysics issues which have always provided us with a challenge.’


Department of Works’ David Wereh.

Maintenance of the road is a key part of the package, says Wereh.

‘With sections which we have already upgraded, and are in good condition, we will have long-term, four-to-five year maintenance arrangements.’

Wereh says the 10-year plan will see various sections of the road being built simultaneously, rather than working from one end to the other. Details will be confirmed by the end of the year.

‘We are going to fix the dilemmas and challenges which have hindered our social and economic development.

‘We’re using new and workable approaches, which I hope we can use elsewhere in the country, on the 16 priority roads.

‘We’d like to work with the World Bank and other donor partners on these 16 roads on a similar basis to the ADB deal.’

The ADB meets in Manila this month to give its final seal of approval for its Sustainable Highlands Highway Investment Program, which will fund the Highlands Highway project.


  1. The only, the only, reason for the state of the Okuk Highway, and every other highway and bridge in PNG is the failure to provide for maintenance in the budgets. it does not matter how much capital works money you throw at it, it will be back to zero condition if there is no maintenance funds budgeted […] ADB or IMF funds for capital works must have an untouchable maintenance content that cannot be accessed by anyone. As long as this is not done, repairing the Highway is a waste of time and money.

  2. Apa Robert says:

    Severe, very severe!. That’s currently how our highlands highway’s sad state is. Potholes every short distance, severe landslides at every length of the highway, tall wild growths making the highway very narrow and making it easy for nasty road accidents to occur.
    The K3.2 billion kina 10-year reconstruction program on the highlands highway should not be a just a mere project, but a very detailed and well-managed and engineered project this time. Road construction companies engaged should be more than 10 companies so that each company shall be engaged to construct between 30-40 km section of the highway. This should make work distribution and quality of work shared in line and according to common world-class engineering standard. Every contractors has to abide and work with one engineering design specification, scope of work and supervision.
    PNG needs quality and durable road networks. Highlands highway is the main economic lifeline of this country. Hence, seriously be looked into and work should start as soon as possible.

  3. We should ensure that the main trunk road of the Highlands Highway should be a continuation of the 4 -Lane Lae – Nadzab Highway. It should go all the way from Lae to Mt Hagen. Eventually, it should go all the way to Tari and Porgera and the third route to Kikori via Erave.
    The socio-economic benefits should be immense once this 4-lane world class Highway is completed.

  4. john wilkinson says:

    The Okuk/Highlands Highway suffers a number of challenges. The Highway was constructed in colonial times and its principal function was to service the tea and coffee industries which were the backbone of the country’s export industry at that time, and its support townships of Hagen, Goroka etc. The soils around areas of Chimbu were still relatively young and still moving, causing challenges to the stability of new roads to this day.
    Another major challenge was the various governments inability to recognise the necessity to allocate funding for ongoing maintenance, as well as capital allocations, not just for this highway but for every capital works road in the country.
    Whilst it is important to retain the Highlands Highway, depending on cost management relevance, the country should be looking at an alternative route into the Highlands to better service the resource sector which has taken over from tea and coffee as principal export revenues.
    Following the completion of the PNG LNG gas pipeline, there is now a 400 tonne wharf at Kopi in the Gulf, which was used to transport a large percentage of the heavy materials for the pipeline construction. From there it takes only 5 hours to drive to Moro. A lot of infrastructure including and bridges and roadwork has already bee done by the Oil and Gas developers, servicing resource landowner communities which had no access to service delivery in the past. A new route could be established into the Highlands at a relatively minimal cost. Moreover, to assist with ongoing maintenance, it could be a toll road with income from larger commercial vehicles to support maintenance, or to pay landowners to ensure uninterrupted passage and stop the hijacking of goods which is a huge and costly problem on the Highlands Highway.

  5. Jerry Kapka says:

    TEN YEARS?? Quite a long length of time for repairs and maintenance work. Is it not possible to do the job in a shorter time if the money is available? Repair and Maintenance or complete overhaul? We have heard all there before. We deserve an international standard national highway we can all be proud of. The current state and condition of the road s a total disgrace and shameful and not fitting to call in “national highway”.

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