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ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan (AP) — Construction has started in Turkmenistan on a four-lane highway across the gas-rich ex-Soviet nation.

The $2.3 billion project is designed to link Turkmenistan’s capital of Ashgabat, the largest city in Central Asia and located not far from Iran’s northern border, to Turkmenabat near the border with Uzbekistan.

Government newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan said Friday that the highway will stretch across 600 kilometers (372 miles) of desert.

To boost cross-border trade, plans call for the new artery to connect to another highway that takes vehicles between the capital and the port of Turkmenbashi, on the Caspian Sea,

The son of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a deputy regional governor, led a ceremony to mark the beginning of building the highway.