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. Apa Robert says

    Get this road fixed with quality international design and engineering standards and reconstruction must commence asap. Award contracts to more than 5 qualified construction companies (whether it be PNG or overseas companies) so that this project can be completed in less than 10 years. I hope our good Minister for Works and his Secretary do not get sides to select incompetent contractors.

  2. Jacob Sinne says

    Sincerely agree to all comments. The provision of public goods such as roads is a function of the government at different levels. Highlands (Okuk) Highway is an important national asset and it is the responsibility of Nat. Govt. DOT plans and DOW implements. Are these two major Government Departs. and Ministries working together for the country. Is the PM and NEC receiving honest and research based advice?. Where is the priority in terms of funding against all road infrastructures. 1977/1978 was the major reconstruction was done to the HH. After that, crisis management approach to unplanned repairs works undertaken by unqualified road contractors under no strict project mgt by DOW at all levels. Over to you PM and NEC give us good road first. Hence, with respect to maintenance, Government planners, develop a “National Asset Management Policy” and make it a shared responsibility for government and road users (stakeholders) to look after it. Thank you. Jacob Sinne

  3. George Luke says

    I agreed the super highway from Lae – Nazab muct continue up to the highlands. Because those in the government this is your time to set a legacy before our fore fathers like Okuk who build this highway that now we are benefiting from it. It’s your time, the power is in your hands. Make your countrymen a facelift and a pride.

  4. I once lived in Goroka and frequently used the Highlands (Okuk) Highway. From my observations, I realized that the main reason why the road condition kept on deteriorating fast even after new sealing works was because many heavy trucks were using the single lane road 24/7. You could feel the earth shaking 5 – 10 metres away from the road when these heavy trucks roared past. If this kind of shaking of the road and underlying soil/earth was taking place 24/7, then we can understand why the road condition has been very bad and why it has been very expensive to maintain over the last 42 years. I suggest the following strategies to enable the nation to have world class roads which would be cheaper to maintain in the long run. (1) Build a double-lane highway which should be a continuation of the road already under construction from Lae to Nadzab airport. This will help to split by half the number of heavy trucks using the single lane road surface at present and will in turn help prolong the time for new repair work. (2) We should support and encourage the current Government to complete the Gulf – SHP Highway and the Jiwaka to Madang Highway as a matter of priority. These two new roads will help to reduce traffic currently using the Okuk Highway from Mt Hagen – Lae – Mt Hagen by more than 50%. This strategy alone will help to prolong the condition of the Okuk Highway and will further reduce the current costs of maintenance. (3) Since the big heavy trucks carrying containers of goods up and down the highway 24/7 are the main culprits causing damage to the road, we should seriously think about building a railway line carrying the containers of heavy cargo to the Highlands and leave the Highways to light trucks and small cars. It is about time now that we Papua New Guineans have to come up with creative and innovative solutions to the many development related problems we have been facing. These are my suggestions (ideas) to help us have high quality world class roads that will require less maintenance and help raise our people’s socio-economic status in the long run.

  5. Peter Noimbano says

    The 16 high priory roads/19 km section of the road is meaning that more work needs to be done. And this will be done by the construction companies. Is there any figure worked out on the number of companies that will be needed to do the work more effectively?

  6. Peter Noimbano says

    Okuk Highway is a super economical road in PNG. The vast majority of PNG population for the six provinces of the Highlands Region have benefited so well since then. However, sometimes back as the road began to deteriorate partially but at massive cost, it eventually gave rise to inter-linked range of issues at social, environmental, economical, etc. aspects. Meanwhile, the road condition is at critical point. Mainly in a sense that, road passes through gentle plains and flat areas are badly undergoing potholes while hilly or sloppy areas (some gentle plains) are increasingly undergoing landslides. And some (venerability still high) bridges as well as parts of the roads linked to the bridges are damaged by floods.
    Nevertheless, it is a great news for all the Highlanders (in particular), Papua New Guineans and the international community that our valuable infrastructure that enhance entry and exit from Highlands to Coastal (Vise visa) is going to come back to live from its “ruin state of slumber”. As the victim affected (through some means) from using this degraded road, I strongly believe that, rebuilding and maintenance will combat the series of issues along the road and importantly, boost the economic growth.
    Therefore, personally my strong point is;
    1) Quality and Sustainability of the road resulted from this wealthy K3.2billion.The quality of the road must correlate with its lifespan. The road standard must be made in such a way that road starts to experience 5cm diameter of potholes(at least) after10 to 20 years but not like 10 to 20 cm diameter of potholes and a lot of cracks on the road that is sealed just five years ago.
    2) Landslide, potholes and floods (at least) seemed to be the core factors that continuously degrading the road with extensive influences from climate change. Prior to those striking issues that ruin the quality and simplify the lifespan of the road, it would be more better if there is very smart studies/research on how to go about dealing with those issues so that the road and the bridges must be built in a way that resists the effect/influences climate and also control landslide and potholes of the roles respectively. ABOVE ALL, THE COMPANY INTENDED TO APPLY FOR THE PROJECT MUST COMFORTABLY QUALIFIED TO DEAL WITH 3 USUAL ISSUES AS MENTIONED. The most reliable results documented from smart researches of dynamic of soil, climate, vegetation, topography, geology is more important as normally considered by the engineers. In this dynamic PNG in terms of the factors mentioned above, whatever company that can work effectively in response, this is the company that will make the K3.2 billion loans become more fruitful.

  7. Peter Noimbano says

    My previous comment has K2.3 billion loan as the value of the project, in which its should have being written as K3.2 billion

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

    • Using modern engineering road construction methods including soil classification are critical in structural integrity of the compacted surface with a good drainage system should enable long lasting solution and fewer maintenance. Has anyone done any research on the use of trains to freight cargo to the highlands? Look at Europe and else where, you will find some of the toughest terrain accommodating engineered railway lines for trains to deliver cargo to remote places. Leave the roads to small vehicles. Depending on one single highway is sort sighted I think. Why not consider another highway link or feeder sealed roads linking a super h/way. This arterial super h/way should start from West Sepik – Vanimo through major coastal towns and highlands urban centres linking Ports of Vanimo, Wewak, Madang, Lae, Moresby, Kerema and possibly Alotau, if that makes sense.

      • Konsent says

        Agreed. Workable and long lasting solution if this happens. Will cost some lost to freighting companies like Mapai, but will significantly reduce maintenance cost for a long while

  12. 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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