SINCE independent Slovakia was established in 1993, each successive government has declared building a freeway linking the western and eastern parts of the country as one of its main goals.
None, however, has ever met its own deadlines, far less overcome the political and terrestrial challenges involved.
According to the 1994-1998 Vladimír Mečiar cabinet, a freeway connecting Bratislava and the eastern city of Košice was supposed to have been finished by 2006. As it turned out, not even the first stage of the project, a high-speed link between the Slovak capital and Žilina in the north, was completed by this date.
The cabinet of Mikuláš Dzurinda, in turn, moved the date back to 2010, perhaps rather optimistically given the delays with key elements such as the five-kilometre Branisko tunnel between Levoča and Prešov in the east.
Now, the current cabinet of Robert Fico is saying that 2013 is the earliest possible date that the Bratislava-Košice freeway stretching up to the border with Ukraine could be completed.
Transport Minister Ľubomír Vážny says the main reason for the postponement is not a shortage of money, but the fact that the previous cabinet fell so far behind its schedule in highway construction.
In the next four years, about Sk130 billion in public resources, including EU funds, are earmarked for developing Slovakia's transport network. Vážny added the ministry would have problems spending the planned Sk30 billion a year because it lacked a reservoir of projects.
"We don't have a backlog of projects prepared," Vážny said. In such massive infrastructure projects as freeway construction, the government needs to have a dozen projects on the back-burner for every one being implemented, in case the latter grinds to a halt due to problems obtaining permits or buying the land the freeway will cross. Without this reservoir, the overall project can run into significant time delays.
But former Transport Minister Pavol Prokopovič said he was convinced that the current government's highway construction plans are not ambitious enough, and rejects Vážny's claim that the agenda was neglected. "His arguments are not true," Prokopovič told the Okey radio station.
Based on the current cabinet programme, the ministry wants to bring at least 100 kilometres of highways and freeways into operation by 2010.
Marián Miškovič, the director of the road infrastructure department at the Transport Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator that his priorities included: "The Sverepec - Žilina and Važec - Jánovce stretches on the D1 freeway from Bratislava to Žilina, and the Svinia - Prešov road; the Lamačská cesta - Staré grunty stretch on the D2 highway in Bratislava; and the stretch between Svrčinovec and the border with Poland on the D3 north of Žilina.
In terms of freeways it is the Nitra - Tekovské Nemce stretch on the R1, bypasses on the R2 around Figa, Tornaľa, and Ožďany, and the stretch on the R4 from Košice to Milhosť and the border with Hungary".
He added that the ministry would try to draw as much from EU funds for highway construction as it could, and would also prepare an agenda to be able to start construction on other stretches of highways and freeways after 2010.
The current cabinet would consider building highways according to a public private partnership (PPP) system only if public funds for the projects prove insufficient.
In order to carry out the government's transport infrastructure plans, several legislative changes will be needed to the Expropriation Act, the Construction Act and the Public Procurement Act.
A document issued by the former government evaluating the work of the Transport Ministry from 2002-2006 claims that the previous cabinet invested about Sk27 billion into highways and freeways up to 2005. Another Sk19 billion was earmarked for 2006.
The previous cabinet put 30.12 kilometres of highways and 22.11 kilometres of freeways into operation from 2003 to 2006.
Among the work completed on the D1 freeway were the Viedenská cesta - Prístavný most stretch in Bratislava, the Ladce - Sverepec and Behárovce - Branisko passages, and the bypass around Fričovce; on the D3 it included the bypass around Čadca, and the run from Skalité to the border with Poland.
On the R1 freeway the government finished the Hronský Beňadik - Nová Baňa stretch, the bypass around Nová Baňa, and the links from Nová Baňa to Rudno nad Hronom and Budča to Kováčová.
28. Aug 2006 at 0:00 | Marta Ďurianová