Court Clears Way for Tunnel under Shipka
The last legal obstacle to the construction of the tunnel between North and South Bulgaria under Shipka peak fell on April 28. The five-member panel of the Supreme Administrative Court rejected a final appeal by the WWF conservationists against the decision of the Minister of Environment and Water, from 2012, approving the project for the construction of the facility.
Environmentalists demanded it be annulled for violations and lack of justification. According to the judges, however, the requirements for placing the announcement of the public hearing have been met. The public debate was held, and the applicants' objections were submitted to the Ministry of Environment. In a nutshell, legally this is already the awaited green light to build a tunnel under Shipka peak. Practically, however, things are a little bit different.
During the period in office of GERB party the construction of this facility has repeatedly been identified as a major priority. The project was divided into two major phases. The first is the accession road plus the bypassing one near Gabrovo, which is funded by the Operational Programme Transport in its current edition, and the second one is the tunnel itself, which was left for the new programming period. But with the election of the new Parliament and the present Cabinet the situation changed dramatically and now such works do not appear anywhere in the working draft of the operational programme "Transport 2014 - 2020." Neglect in this respect can have serious consequences for the country. According to the former minister in charge of EU funds and current member of GERB Tomislav Donchev: "In connection with the Accession, Bulgaria has committed to build this facility. If it does not, we will be penalized. Most logically, when it comes to a European commitment and a European transport corridor, is that to be done with European money, as we started."
The warnings seemed to have some effect, since at the end of last year Road Infrastructure Agency announced a contract for the development of an extended project for Gabrovo bypass tunnel under the mountain peak. Despite the submitted nine bids, no contractor has been selected.
One is certain: EU money for the facility will not be spent, but there is another option. In 2009 Road Infrastructure Agency announced a procedure for finding an investor for the tunnel under Shipka. Then a total of 32 companies expressed their willingness to build and operate such a facility, and among them were some of the biggest in the industry. So public-private partnership can also be though as a means of financing, once the conceptual design becomes ready.
Otherwise, the latest feasibility study was done in April 2001 and its author was Japanese company Construction Project Consultants Inc. According to the Japanese the most suitable option for payment of the facility will be the construction of a toll system, the income from which will go directly for maintenance activities.