Poland's derelict highways stall investments

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A country of 38 million covering an area equivalent to 85 percent of Germany, Poland has just 766 kilometres.

Warsaw -- Five years after joining the European Union, Poland is still stuck with a communist-era road network derelict to the point of discouraging foreign investors drawn by the country's economic performance.

"I've lost dozens of clients across Poland, primarily because of the disastrous state of the roads," says Marek Zakrzewski, an importer and wholesaler of textiles from India.

"With more traffic on the roads, transport has become too difficult and dangerous, so I've limited my activities to Warsaw," he told AFP.

A country of 38 million covering an area equivalent to 85 percent of Germany, Poland has just 766 kilometres (476 miles) of highways, according to the national road authority GDDKiA.

"From May 1, 2004, some 215 kilometres (133 miles) of new highways have been opened to traffic. Another 225 kilometres (140 miles) are under construction," GDDKiA spokesman Artur Mrugasiewicz told AFP.

Polish senators and Japanese businessmen meeting recently said the under-development of Poland's highway network was a huge road bump discouraging foreign direct investment in the country.

"Despite blueprints existing for the construction of highways, they are not being built," Japanese companies observed in a report obtained by AFP.

"Inadequate highway infrastructure causes traffic jams that delay the delivery of raw materials or damage transported products. This situation does not favour the development of investment," Japanese inventors told Polish senators.

Without major highways, heavy-load transport lorries are forced to use regular roads, often just two lanes, which succumb quickly to the excessive weight of the vehicles.

Some highways built since the 1989 collapse of communism in Poland leave much to be desired.

"There are permanent road works patching up the 80-kilometre-long highway linking Katowice and Krakow" in southern Poland, Poland's former economy minister Janusz Steinhoff lamented during a recent radio debate.

"That there is no service station on a 200-kilometre-long stretch of highway between Katowice and Wroclaw (southwest Poland) is completely incomprehensible," he added.

Difficulties in expropriating property for highway construction from small landholders, environmental regulations and complicated tender procedures are all to blame for Poland's dearth of highways.

Financing for the development of the highway network is generous. Poland has earmarked 121 billion zlotys (27.5 billion euros, 36 billion dollars) for highway construction between 2008-12. EU structural development funds will cover nearly a third of costs.

In power since the fall of 2007, the liberal government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has vowed to build 900 kilometres (560 miles) of new highways by 2012 just in time for the UEFA 2012 football championships to be co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine.

"Roads are Poland's greatest challenge," admitted Marcin Herra, chief of PL.2012, convened to coordinate preparations for the UEFA playoffs.

The government has already succeeded in changing several out-of-date bureaucratic procedures responsible for stalling road work.

But the global economic crisis will not simplify the government's task of making good on the promised new motorways, even if for the moment Poland is weathering the world-wide slump relatively well.


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