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Road building on hold for 40 years

BiH has the experts, but not the will to build modern roads. Petty squabbling over routes and land acquisition has frustrated construction of a road network that could save lives and rev up the economy for decades.
Foto: CIN

Traffic and transportation professor Osman Lindov took it seriously in 2003 when the state Council of Ministers appointed him one of six members of an expert advisory committee on constructing fast roads and highways.

In a frenzy of enthusiasm, they researched, created and collected almost four kilograms of documents about routes, traffic analysis and other information, planning and readying the way for building 330 kilometers of highway through Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and connecting the country to the rest of Europe.

BiH built only 20 kilometers of highway out of 330 kilometers planned and recommended

But to his disappointment, the Council and the BiH Ministry of Traffic and Communication ignored the experts, who called on politicians to pass a state law on roads, set up a state road agency and devise a road development strategy.

‘Most of the guidelines have not been accepted’ he says today, still outraged by the waste. ‘This really hurts because I know that we have human resources. We are aware of the prosperity that highways bring to a country, but in the end it all can be summed up as: we didn’t use our brain.’

After a year and a half of work, the team disbanded. Only 20 kilometers of the highway that was to connect Sarajevo with Budapest have been built.

BiH has human resources but no political will to build modern roads.

Politicians use a stack of old excuses to explain why Sarajevo has not been remade into a modern tourist city and BiH still lacks a complex of state roads.

Nearly 12 years after the war ended, they still talk about war damage to the infrastructure. They also cite budget shortages, illegal construction that now clogs land where highways had been planned, and ethnic conflict that makes the routes of highways controversial.

These are the same excuses that have delayed road work since the 1960s, when Sarajevo authorities devised their first urban plan and mapped out a complex of nine major routes and a highway. It remains only a plan.

Road infrastructure in Bosnian cities and the rural areas are in a dire situation.

A study report published by the European Union for Regional Development BiH states that Sarajevo and the rest of the country have the worst road network on the continent. The roads are dangerous, not just in bad shape.

For example, statistics show there were 32,219 traffic accidents in BiH, with 375 dead and 9,129 wounded in 11 months of 2006.

Foreign and local traffic experts warn that unless the new roads are built soon, BiH is likely to remain a backwater of Europe. In their opinion, roads are the key to development and a precondition for investments and tourism.

No leader is pressing for this currently; most seem to lack the vision or courage to face local resistance to road-building. People do not want to move homes or stores they have built up over the past 12 years to make room for a road. They never considered that when they picked the site to build on; sites that were often at odds with city plans.

Experts warn that unless the new roads are built soon, BiH is likely to remain a backwater of Europe.

‘Our attitude towards roads and highways is sick’ said Said Jamaković, director of The Institute for Planning for Sarajevo Canton. ‘There is a resistance to construction. People are saying: Don’t build here, don’t build there, and don’t build over there.’

Chief BiH Prosecutor Marinko Jurčević has seen the result – congestion, delay and frustration. He works in Sarajevo but his family lives in Travnik, so he makes a long daily drive.

‘It often happens that I come from Travnik to Rajlovac, on the outskirts of Sarajevo, relatively quickly’ he said. ‘After that, I would lose an hour only a few kilometers short of entering Sarajevo.’

Strategy needed and a will to act

Politicians must agree to develop a strategy of road infrastructure on the state level before anything can improve, said most of the experts the Center for Investigating Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) interviewed.

Branko Dokić, state minister of Traffic and Communication, disagrees.

Politicians use a stack of old excuses to explain why Sarajevo has not been remade into a modern tourist city and BiH still lacks a complex of state roads.

He said that a master plan of transport drawn up by Japanese experts for BiH but never approved by the government is more encompassing than the plans of regional countries because ‘others have road plans and we have plans for air and sea transport, but also the railway.’

It exists but isn’t followed. ‘Whether there’s a state strategy is conditional on interpretation, perspective and good intentions. Not only reporters, but the public has only been focused on the negative. Not everything is black and white, there’s a lot of grey there’ Dokić said.

Pavo Boban, FBiH deputy minister of Traffic and Communication, has spent 30 years working on roads, including managing a road construction company. He said strategy has been undercut by regional conflict. ‘We have tried to develop a strategy. But, what happened there? Today we have to fit in regional interests. We have to fit in ethnic interest and we are divided. Croats are pulling in one direction, Serbs in another and Bošniaks in another again’ he said.

Experts claim that Corridor Vc could already have been built if there were not ethnic, regional and party divisions.

The highway to Hungary could have already been built but for this conflict.

‘What matters here is whether this official is from Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH) or this or that Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ or HDZ 1990). That’s what matters. It doesn’t matter whether we have a blueprint and strategy or will one project be implemented or not’ said Boban.

‘It hurts me’ he said, ‘because I know that we can provide solutions in a better and more quality fashion.’

Politics trump good road building

‘When we got the highway project on its feet’ Lindov remembers, ‘then those Bosnian know-it-alls started the discussion of whether it will finish in Neum or Ploče.’

‘During the Corridor Vc project, everybody was horsing around’ says Osman Lindov, a professor in the Sarajevo Traffic school.

‘For God’s sake, that’s absurd… For all intents and purposes, that’s unimportant. For crying out loud, if we can make it to Mostar, from there the sea is close. In the end, you’re left with nothing’ he said bitterly. ‘We’re horsing around. Everyone was horsing around during this project.’

Besim Mehmedić, director of the Institute for Planning of Sarajevo Canton, said it was lack of political will, not funds, that was blocking highway construction.

He has been an ardent advocate for a cross-city road that would run from Zagrebačka Street in Grbavica area to Vogošća.

But a meeting about the road involving officials from the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Urban Planning, Bureau of Roads, School of Forestry, Cantonal Institute for Protection of Cultural Heritage, Ministry of Traffic and Communication and the Institute for building and planning of Sarajevo Canton ended up in conflict. SDA and SBiH party members were on one side and Social Democratic Party (SDP) members on the other.

Novo Sarajevo Borough, led by Željko Komšić who is now the Croatian member of the BiH presidency, decided that the road would damage the 100-year-old linden trees along Vilson walkway.

‘It wasn’t about six linden trees’ Mehmedić said. ‘It was about a line of shops along the route which had been given a temporary permit. Somebody in the municipality figured out that the transversal could be stopped, so that the municipality wouldn’t have to pay for relocating those buildings.’

According to Jamaković, projects like this cross-city road need to be declared public interest work so that building them would get priority over small, private interests.

‘Bosnian familiarity is a large obstacle to our development’ says Said Jamaković, director of Institute for Planning in Canton Sarajevo.

He blames lazy legislators for not pushing the state interest. Police and inspectors don’t help either, he said. It’s too easy for businessmen or home-owners to stop an entire project by using their friendship or kinship with officials to win an exemption for their property.

‘It’s a major obstacle to our development’ said Jamaković. ‘It is said: leave Tom or leave Harry and so do nothing. That ownership influence leads to watering down of the projects. Everyone knows somebody, everyone is well connected. Such people are interested in individual interest and don’t understand public interest.’

Without sacrifice, by which he means tearing down buildings in the way of public construction, he said, there will continue to be no construction.

Common good over personal interest

In order to tear down a house or business, the Sarajevo Canton Bureau of Construction must provide the municipality’s legal departments with a notice establishing the public interest, proof of a bank account with enough compensation to pay for land acquisition and information on the land required, including measurements.

But Nijaz Aljović, 30, chief of property, legal, and apartment issues for the municipality of Ilidža, found when he began working there three years ago that officials of public companies seldom had the correct documents.

‘I was expecting that no one would think of declaring the right of eminent domain over private land without submitting required documentation’ he said. ‘And that I wouldn’t have to beg to get the documentation, as required by law. That blueprints would be made not in the offices but on the ground.’

A decision to act

Most existing roads in Sarajevo have been reconstructed during the last several years, from Baščaršija to Ilidža, including widening the western gateway into the city at Blažuj and those 20 kilometers of highway built to Visoko. But it’s still so little, according to Nermin Pećanac, an MP in Sarajevo Canton Assembly.

The building gives ‘a misleading impression’ he said. ‘False glory. As the population swells the hilly, sideway streets are falling into disrepair.’

Muhamed Bublin, a professor in the Sarajevo School of Architecture and another member of the expert team that was ignored, is pessimistic.

‘We’ve got a dire situation in road infrastructure in cities and outside cities. If we continue building at this pace, there’s no chance that we will solve the existing road issues — forget building new’ he said.

Stanko Kovač, former president of the Croatian Highway Administration, responsible for building 450 kilometers of highway in five years in that country, said he knows what it takes to get that kind of action.

‘In 2000 we had 200 kilometers of highways and we figured that we have to make new kilometers’ he said. ‘We calculated that we used to build some 15 kilometers of highways annually. By that calculation, it would take us 100 years to reach our goals.’ They made roads a priority and moved faster.

‘To build a highway you need first the political will’ Kovač said. ‘Second you need political will. And third you need political will.’

This project was completed with financial assistance from the Open Society Fund BiH

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