While last October construction final began of the long-awaited 60-kilometre bypass of Bratislava, drivers will have to wait a bit longer for the complete D1 highway from Bratislava to Košice. Meanwhile, the Turany-Hubová stretch in northwestern Slovakia is causing the biggest headaches for the government and highway builders. After a landslide during construction, the state began reconsidering its final route.
Currently in Slovakia, contractors are building nine stretches of highways and dual carriageways totalling more than 90 kilometres. These should be completed between 2017 and 2020. This year, the companies should complete construction of a stretch of the dual carriageway R2 Zvolen east-Pstruša; the D3 highway stretch Svrčinovec-Skalité; the D1 highway stretch Svinia-Prešov west, and the D3 stretch, Strážov at Žilina-Brodno, spokeswoman of the National Highway Company (NDS) Eva Žgravčáková informed.
“In terms of construction of new stretches, everything will depend on availability of funds and the process of public procurement which is not fully under the control of NDS,” Žgravčáková told The Slovak Spectator. “Among the most advanced stretches are the R3 Tvrdošín-Nižná, R2 Košice, R2 Šaca-Košické Oľšany and the R4 northern bypass of Prešov.”
Meanwhile, financing needed for construction of highways and dual carriageways remains in question. EU funds Slovakia is set to receive during the 2017-2020 programming period have been already allocated for existing projects. Yet it is not clear whether Slovakia will continue to receive money from the EU.
For that reason, the Robert Fico government is pushing to loosen the debt brake, an instrument Slovakia adopted back in 2011 to prevent an increase in the country's debt to critical levels. Its loosening would allow the state to borrow more money, for example, for completion of highways. Other possible sources include the state budget, other European sources, i.e. Juncker’s package, or public-private partnership (PPP) projects.
Is highway construction in Slovakia overpriced?
Costs for building highways in Slovakia remain in the spotlight. The Institute for Economic and Social Reforms (INEKO) think tank criticised, for example, the D3 stretch Čadca-Svrčinovec. The price for which the winning consortium will build it is about €40 million above state expertise estimates.
Also the south-western bypass of Prešov, part of the D1 highway connecting Bratislava with Košice, is subject to criticism for its high costs.
Pavol Kováčik, chair of the Association of Construction Entrepreneurs of Slovakia, perceives arithmetic comparison of prices for construction of highways as nonsense. Kováčik served as investment director at NDS until June 2016.
“It is impossible to compare the price of one kilometre [of a highway] from different projects,” Kováčik told the Pravda daily. “This is because each highway or railway is unique. The share of bridges, tunnels, necessary investments like building anti-noise walls, anti-flood measures, replacing of drain pipes or electrical lines, among others, affect prices the most. Also relief of the land and geology have an impact.”
Kováčik specified that the 7.9-km Prešov bypass consists of an almost 2-km-long tunnel and 18 bridges totalling almost 3.5 kilometres. This stretch should also be built with a concrete surface, which is more expensive in the case of primary investments, but operation and maintenance of such a highway is cheaper.
“The Prešov bypass is a good example of how easily the fact whether a highway is expensive can be distorted,” said Kováčik. “Its price is not only in line with the state expertise estimate but a closer look confirms that comparison of prices for one kilometre of highway, also in relation to abroad, is misleading and inaccurate.”
Construction Minister, Árpád Érsek last December said that if an analysis shows that the price of the Prešov bypass is too high, he is ready to scrap the tender. For now, it is the consortium of Eurovia SK, Eurovia CS, Doprastav and Metrostav Slovakia that should build the stretch for €356 million ex VAT. The ministry is currently updating the EIA report on this project so that its construction can be financed by EU funds.
Construction of D3 highway
Earlier in January, the consortium of Strabag, Porr and Hochtief construction companies started construction of the highly anticipated D3 stretch, Čadca-Svrčinovec. particularly drivers heading to Poland or the Czech Republic will benefit from this 5.6-km stretch. Construction should last four years and cost almost €240 million ex VAT.
The D3 highway from Dolný Hričov near Žilina running up to the Slovak-Polish border in Skalité will be 60 kilometres long. Although its construction started 20 years ago, only the 8.5-kilometre stretch of Hričovské Podhradie-Žilina Strážov and the four-kilometre stretch, Oščadnica-Čadca built according to a half-profile, i.e. with half of the planned lanes, are in operation. Almost 22 kilometres of this highway are under construction and building of the remaining more than 34 kilometres has not yet started. The D3 highway should be completed by 2025, but local municipalities and companies are pushing for earlier completion, the Pravda daily wrote.
Bratislava-Košice highway far from sight
The D1 stretch Turany-Hubová will be the next stretch to be completed on the Bratislava-Košice highway. Other missing stretches are either under construction or their preparations are far from underway.
The stretch Turany-Hubová connects the Turiec and Liptov regions and its construction is very demanding from the point of view of environemental protection, geology as well as financing. So far, the state has been pushing for a cheaper surface variant that wiould do greater harm to the nature reservations of the Lower and Higher Fatra mountains. However, after a landslide during construction of the surface highway near Šútovo in 2013, it began reconsidering the final route; and the oldest variant with the six-kilometre Korbeľka tunnel was again under consideration.
Now, the Environment Ministry is evaluating the submitted surface and tunnel variants. It expects to decide which variant is the most acceptable by this spring. However, Tomáš Ferenčák, spokesperson of the Environment Ministry specified that the final stance of the ministry will be in the form of the construction permission and the current ongoing evaluation process does not replace the ordinary proceedings related to issuing the necessary permits.
Experts estimate that re-routing of the Turany-Hubová stretch and its building will last about 10 years, i.e. until about 2026. Its construction will include building of the 5,851-metre Korbeľka tunnel and the 2,898-metre Havran tunnel.
Costs for construction of the Turany-Hubová stretch with the tunnels are estimated at about €700 million. For now there is no funding for it in the state budget or from EU funds.