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Rebuilding the past bridges the future over the Danube between Slovakia, Hungary

ŠTUROVO - Ever since it was blown up during World War II, something has always come up to arrest or at least delay the rebuilding of the Maria Valeria bridge connecting Slovak Šturovo with Hungary's Esztergom. Now, it seems that political will and the potential business rewards have combined to make the bridge's rebirth irresistable. "The decisive thing was that Slovakia and Hungary agreed on the need to renew the bridge," Šturovo's mayor, Jan Oravec, said. "I am 99.99 percent sure the project will be realized. To cancel the agreement would be a political failure for both sides." A little sweetner tossed in by the European Union (EU) doesn't hurt either. The EU's Phare program has given 5 million ECU ($6.4 milion) to help the two countries link themselves again.


Robert Kiss

ŠTUROVO - Ever since it was blown up during World War II, something has always come up to arrest or at least delay the rebuilding of the Maria Valeria bridge connecting Slovak Šturovo with Hungary's Esztergom. Now, it seems that political will and the potential business rewards have combined to make the bridge's rebirth irresistable.

"The decisive thing was that Slovakia and Hungary agreed on the need to renew the bridge," Šturovo's mayor, Jan Oravec, said. "I am 99.99 percent sure the project will be realized. To cancel the agreement would be a political failure for both sides."

A little sweetner tossed in by the European Union (EU) doesn't hurt either. The EU's Phare program has given 5 million ECU ($6.4 milion) to help the two countries link themselves again. The Slovak company Mostaren Brezno and the Hungarian firm Dunafer will combine to bring the bridge, named after the daughter of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Josef, back to life. If all goes according to plan, construction should begin next April, with the both banks being connected in 1997, Oravec said.

The bridge's rebuilding is significant for a big reason: money. "The bridge will have a great economic effect in terms of tourism," predicted Esztergom's mayor Lázslo Konozsi. "Traffic in both directions will increase and a higher concentration of tourists wil bring more money into both towns."

Indeed, an economic estimate by the Šturovo town council stated that traffic will increase 25 percent upon the bridge's completion. While the roads to the bridge go through the center of both towns, Konozsi excluded the possibility that they could become traffic arteries.

"The environment will not be overloaded because only cars and buses and perhaps small trucks will be allowed on the bridge," Konozsi said. "Our bridge will not turn into a traffic jam."

But for many of the people who live here, a reconstructed bridge will mean reuniting. From the dawn of the 20th century, the exchange of goods, both real and spiritual, went on between the two towns. For the inhabitants of Esztergom, the bridge made it a lot easier to get to Šturovo's train station; for the residents of Šturovo, Esztergom, which boasts the fifth largest basilica in Europe and the 11th largest in the world, became a religious mecca. Contacts among many people grew into family relationships, and even today, people in both towns have relatives on the other bank.

The Maria Valera bridge was built in 1895. Bombed almost to oblivion in World War II, a fragment of it exists today, strangely jutting into the water like a lost pier. Once the bridge is completed, it will mark the 97th crossing over the Danube River in Europe.

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