ROAD TO OLYMPICS IN GREECE BLOCKED UP
While Greece is busy building stadiums, sports halls, hotels, roads and highways for the Olympic Games, some people in Bulgaria are also trying to reckon if they could make some money from the big sports event. However, Bulgaria cannot expect much money from the Olympics, although for eight years now since Athens was appointed the venue of the successive games two Bulgarian governments were making various plans for speeded construction of the international roads to our southern neighbour country. The former vice premier and minister of construction and public works Kostadin Paskalev had promised that the highway to Koulata would be ready prior the Olympic Games. Mr. Paskalev had set March 15, 2004 as the deadline for completion of the construction. But March will soon begin and the A-class E-79 highway from Vidin to Koulata is still not finished. While Mr. Paskalev was promising more than the possible, his successor Valentin Tserovsky (incumbent Minister of Construction and Public Works) seems to have forgotten about the road to Greece. Anyway, its should be acknowledged that under two programmes launched in 2000 the roads to the future Olympic capital have already been repaired at least from Doupnitsa to Koulata and from Harmanly to the border crossing at Novo Selo. The latter (and the road to the border check-point of Kapital Andreevo) was rehabilitated by Glavbolgarstroy and undertook the huge traffic of TIR-trucks to the Greek and Turkish border. However, this is not the shortest road to Athens.The most convenient track is that along European transport corridor No 4 (E-79 Vidin-Koulata). The repair of the section to Montana is yet to begin. The tender for its construction was finalized on November 20, 2003 and was won by the Austrian company Strabag (the chief building contractor of the new passenger terminal of the Sofia Airport). Construction is to be completed in mid-2005 and until then the traffic will be redirected to second and third-class detours. Obstacles along the 108-km section from Montana to Sofia are much less, but that cannot be said about the detour of the capital city and the exit to E-79. However, they seem unsolvable not only prior the Olympic Games but within one more parliamentary mandate. The Ring-road - Knyazhevo - Pernik passage is a real test even for the nerves of the even-tempered western drivers, due to the usual traffic jams along it. The repair of the road from Pernik to Doupnitsa is financed by the European Investment Bank (EIB). Although the agreement with it was reached back in 1998 the contract for that section was signed as late as end-2001. According to it, the construction had to be completed by the end of 2004. The tender for the building contractor was won by the Bulgarian-Macedonian consortium Bulstroy Engineering with an EURMN offer. But in 2003 the Macedonian partner Mavrovo and the project consultants - the French company Luise Berger in partnership with the Danish Road Department - demanded to increase the financing by some EUR5-6MN. The problem, according to their representatievs, came from the fact that the 18-km section from Daskalovo (a housing quarter in the town of Pernik) to Staro Selo is part of the future highway Strouma which has not been built yet. For that reason the section which is currently being constructed by Mavrovo has been planned without road junctions to the villages and the latter remain isolated. It is for their construction that the Macedonians and the designer demanded additional increase of the money. Without any serious hesitation the Roads Agency signed with the building contractor an annex to the main agreement, undertaking to ensure about EUR6.5MN additionally for the road junctions. However, there is no money as the agency has not agreed that with the Finance Ministry. Its experts are presently holding negotiations with the EIB for additional funds, but their requirements will not be easily satisfied, pundits claim. The possibility of getting money from the state budget seems still more unrealistic. Thus, the deadlines were also missed. On the insistance of the Roads Agency, the Parliamentary Commission on Local Self-government and Public Works agreed that the term for completion of the repair would be extended by half a year (e.g. till mid-2005). This also lengthens the term for utilization of the last tranche from EIB's loan. The rehabilitation of the Doupnitsa - Kalotina section was completed by the Italian company Todini last year. The Italians repaired 87 km of roads, 41 bridges, and 43 gantry walls. However, the quality of the asphalt they used is disputable. The road has been projected for speed of 80 km/hour and up to 60 km/hour in the mountaneous regions and the population centres. Drawing the line, it seems absolutely logical that both participants in the 2004 Olympics and spectators would try to avoid passing through Bulgaria. And besides tour operators, hoteliers and transport companies, Bulgarian airlines and airports could also get profits from the Olympics in our neighbour country. It would had been quite advantageous for visitors to Greece to use the services of Bulgarian airlines to our country and then go by coach or car to Athens. But even if Bulgarian air carriers had ensured the necessary aircraft, they have nowhere to land the passengers from the increased air traffic. The airport in Plovdiv is light years from any international safety standards, and the capacity of the Sofia Airport is insufficient. The new passenger terminal and its new runway will be ready in mid-2005. Thus, the only sure money-maker from the Olympics at present is Air Traffic Control as it charges fees from all aircraft flying over Bulgaria. In the days of the Olympic Games their number will increase several times.