EU OFFICIALS DEMAND A CHEAP BRIDGE AT VIDIN
The second bridge over the Danube between Bulgaria and Romania was and remains one of the mostly disputed infrastructural projects. No matter how sceptical the attitude of a part of Bulgaria's political elite towards the economic expedience of the facility may be, the first tender was announced on March 12 in the official INTERNET site of the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications. April 15 is the deadline for candidate bidders to file offers for participation. The preliminary requirements for the participants in the tender for an international consultant for engineering and management, which will prepare the documentation for the construction of the second Danube bridge at Vidin - Kalafat were published. All fifteen EU member states are allowed to take part in the tender, as well as the thirteen states, which have access to EU pre-accession funds. The two main requirements are financial stability and experience in similar infrastructural projects with big international financing in the last five years. The terms were coordinated with Brussels in February 2002. EUR4,998,000 has been granted by the European Commission for payment to the future consultant.Dimitar Zoev, Director of Transport Policy, Infrastructure and Constructions, admitted there was pressure from international financial institutions for building the bridge as cheap as possible. Experts from the Transport Ministry say that the EU officials have put that requirement because it concerns their taxpayers' money and it cannot be invested in unnecessary luxury. By luxury they mean the demand of Bulgaria's and Romania's state administrations to build a double railroad and two trunk roads with two bands each. The European Investment Bank (EIB), however, insists that the bridge should be of the type of the facility at Rousse - Gyurgevo, pointing out the motive that money would be saved from the first stage of exploitation of such a facility. According to EIB's experts, a single railroad and one trunk road would be sufficient for the traffic in the first 15 years.The European Commission, on its part, has proposed two options for the time when the bridge will not be capable of handling the traffic. The first option is to build another bridge by Danube Bridge 2, and the second one is to build a double construction and exploit initially only one of its parts. According to the joint Bulgarian-Romanian commission, which is working on the project, construction in stages is usually more expensive. It would be reasonable to invest most of the funds in laying the groundwork for the entire bridge. The difference in cost of the two types of constructions (a single and a double bridge) is about 10-15 per cent. If the option to build a second bridge is accepted, new groundwork should be laid and all other operations should be repeated, which is in fact building of a new construction. If the second option is approved, the construction would be unevenly exploited and worn out.All this is not in line with Brussels' requirement for a cheap bridge. The projects, to be worked out by the future consultant, will serve as grounds for the decisive discussion on whether the new facility between Vidin and Kalafat should be single or double. Both neighbouring countries uphold their demand for a maximum traffic capacity and minimum stop of trains and vehicles. Bulgarian and Romanian experts also believe that if less money is invested in the bridge construction, larger investments would be necessary in the adjacent infrastructure. Additional facilities should be constructed for the trains and vehicles to wait for their turn.The decisive discussion on the type of the bridge to be constructed at Vidin - Kalafat will be held by the end of 2002. However, both Bulgaria and Romania should be aware that they may have to construct the facility in stages as per the requirement of the EU officials. But Brussels' stance might change. The results from the preliminary economic and financial study, conducted by the French company VSEOM, show that the project on the construction of Danube Bridge 2 is within the expected financial framework. They have pre-estimated the project's implementation at EUR180MN roughly. The EIB criticized the French company for giving only three forecasts for the future efficiency of the facility - weak, moderate, and optimistic, and excluding a pessimistic one. Such a forecast was presented at the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications in December, but according to experts, it is as unconvincing as the pessimistic one. The French company's forecast is that 700-1,000 vehicles and 10 trains in 24 hours would be crossing Danube Bridge 2 in the year 2010. Having in mind that the preliminary studies were made after lifting the embargo against Yugoslavia, these are very good indicators, Transport Ministry insiders commented.