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New target for highway completion

COMPANIES cite unfinished highway infrastructure as one of the main obstacles to doing business in Slovakia. This is especially the case in eastern Slovakia, which is eager to welcome the kinds of new investments and business opportunities that have traditionally been concentrated in the country’s western region. The remaining stretches of the D1 highway that have yet to be built in order to connect Bratislava with Slovakia’s second largest city, Košice, are gradually being filled in, but it will still take several more years before the country finally completes its major backbone highway.

COMPANIES cite unfinished highway infrastructure as one of the main obstacles to doing business in Slovakia. This is especially the case in eastern Slovakia, which is eager to welcome the kinds of new investments and business opportunities that have traditionally been concentrated in the country’s western region. The remaining stretches of the D1 highway that have yet to be built in order to connect Bratislava with Slovakia’s second largest city, Košice, are gradually being filled in, but it will still take several more years before the country finally completes its major backbone highway.

The Transportation Ministry, headed by Ján Počiatek, introduced on December 10 the updated Programme of Preparation and Construction of Highways and Dual Carriageways for the years 2011-2014, originally approved by the Iveta Radičová government back in July 2011. According to the update, Slovakia must build nine missing highway stretches of the D1, totalling 108 kilometres, which could be completed by 2019 at the earliest, the SITA newswire wrote.

“Because several terms [pertaining to] the start and completion [of construction of individual highway stretches] failed to be or will fail to be observed, and because the programme does not take into consideration some goals and requirements resulting from the government’s [current] programme, the Ministry of Transport, Construction and Regional Development has updated the programme,” the ministry wrote in the document.

The aim of the ministry was to update and create a more realistic timetable for the launch and completion of construction projects listed in the original programme for 2011 and 2014, and to make a list of priority projects, whose construction should start after 2014.

Minister Počiatek plans to launch construction of 45.3 kilometres of highways and 33.9 kilometres of dual carriageways in 2013. In total it will need about €1.5 billion, which it plans to get from EU funds and the state budget, SITA wrote.

Within the D1 highway construction two stretches are planned: the 15.3-km stretch near Ružomberok from Hubová to Ivachnová and the 13.4-km stretch near Žilina from Lietavská Lúčka via Višňové, up to Dubná Skala, to be completed in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

In 2014 the ministry plans to launch construction of the 11.3-km Hričovské Podhradie – Lietavská Lúčka stretch, the 4.9-km stretch Lietavská Lúčka – Žilina and the 14.4-km stretch Budimír – Bidovce, the ministry wrote in the document.

Construction of the 13.5-km stretch between Turany and Hubová and almost 8 kilometres near Prešov should begin in 2015 and be completed until 2019. The ministry also plans to launch construction of missing stretches of highway between Košice and the border with Ukraine in 2014, and in the years after 2015, according to SITA.

Getting the nod from Brussels

Approval from Brussels of the ground project for the highway between Turany and Hubová between the regions of Turiec and Liptov brings Slovakia somewhat closer to a complete Bratislava-Košice highway. Without this approval, Slovakia would not be able to use EU funds to finance its construction and would face the difficult question of where to find the money. This also means that Slovakia is not obliged to change the highway route to an alternate one preferred by nature conservationists and environmentalists, which would include a 6-km tunnel called Korbeľka. Concerns of the EC in 2010 over the highway’s environmental impact led to the failure of Slovakia’s biggest public-private partnership project to design, construct and operate a 75-km stretch of the D1 highway. The cost of construction of the 13.5 km of highway between Turany and Hubová, including the Rojkov and Havran tunnels, is estimated at €700 million without VAT.

The EC’s Directorate-General for the Environment approved the final report, prepared by independent expert Petr Roth, about the possible impacts of the D1 Turany-Hubová highway on the environment, Andrej Holák, the state secretary of the Transport Ministry, said after a negotiation with EC experts in Brussels on December 6 as cited by the TASR newswire.

“[The EC] acknowledged our proceeding and measures; but the most important news for Slovakia is that the EC approved that we can continue to elaborate proposed measures and that we do not need to return some years back to the evaluation of alternative [routes],” Holák said as cited by TASR.
Now the Construction Ministry must work on measures to mitigate the impacts of the highway on the area’s unique ecosystem and win construction licences for them.

Nature conservationists continue to criticise the proposed route, claiming that the proposed mitigation measures are insufficient. They prefer the route through the Korbeľka tunnel.
“[The proposed alternative] negatively affects six protected areas,” Ján Topercer, an expert from the Botanic Gardens at Comenius University told the Hospodárske Noviny daily, adding that the Korbeľka tunnel alternative would only affect three areas.

Ondrej Matej, a former transport advisor to former prime minister Iveta Radičová agrees, claiming that the Korbeľka tunnel alternative is also cheaper. Mikuláš Huba and Martin Fecko from the opposition Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) also maintain that the tunnel alternative is cheaper and has a lower environmental impact.

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