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May 10, 2021

The inferno of road infrastructure

A recent CEE Rankings study, conducted by Roland Berger, shows that Bucharest is one of the least attractive regional capitals for managers and companies. Taking into account the infrastructure works, the education level, the innovation, the international environment, the quality of life and the cultural life, Bucharest scored 13.7 points out of 100. These standings do not surprise us especially if we take into account the road infrastructure. For years roads have been paved and built but the results are still significantly below expectations. As if this was Bucharest’s main problem, former General Mayor Adriean Videanu dealt with the replacement of curbstones – an activity for which he was sued. The traffic is infernal at rush hour. The absence of parking lots is chronic and sequestering illegally-parked cars is not a solution as long as there are no legal alternatives for drivers.

The work done is little, arduous and poor. The Basarab flyover has significantly fallen behind schedule because of the legal conflicts sparked by the way in which the house and land expropriations were done. The construction of the Baneasa overpass is progressing at a snail’s pace, with several workers losing their lives there. Works on the total rehabilitation of streets start only to last for months and years, detouring the traffic and choking it on the alternative routes. Finally, when something is completed, the road is laid with asphalt. Only after the asphalt has been laid do various citizens in the area remember that they have to connect themselves to the natural gas or sewage system under the road. Hence the road is gutted again and is obviously no longer covered with asphalt, instead remaining dotted with numerous narrow ‘trenches.’ Where is the coordination between the road builders and the utility suppliers?

But the infrastructure problem is not a problem limited to Bucharest alone. Romania is a country where no highway has been built since 1990 despite billions of Euros being spent for that purpose. The Bucharest-Pitesti Highway (110 kilometres) has been rebuilt several times during the terms of several Transportation Ministers. Highway A2, dubbed the Sun’s Highway, has 200 kilometres completed, from Bucharest to Cernavoda. From there on the trip towards Constanta and the seaside resorts becomes a nightmare because traffic is limited to two lanes – one for each traveling direction. The Bechtel Highway only has around 40 kilometres completed. The rhythm is slow because the Ministry of Transportation has fallen behind payments for the completed works. Moreover, the costs have risen dramatically compared to the sum initially agreed upon in the contract. The construction of the Bucharest-Brasov Highway is starting too, with its first section set to reach Ploiesti where expropriation issues have appeared once again. In what concerns European Corridor IV, maybe the first one that should have been built, we still have to wait.

You don’t have to be a specialist in order to raise an important question: Why don’t we finish one highway first and then start another? Then at least the issue of Highway A2 and the traffic towards the seaside would be solved in a civilized manner. Instead of doing that, the government authorities, irrespective of the party in office, have followed Bucharest’s example. Throughout time several construction works were started with none of them being completed.

These are not the only ‘shortcomings’ of the road infrastructure in Romania. The quality of the roads varies from good to very poor. The examples could be the beltway of Pitesti (worthy of almost top marks) and the beltway of Ploiesti (whose completion drags on for months and whose completed sections are built in… waves).

The drivers’ lack of traffic civilization is also a factor that aggravates the inferno on Romania’s roads, just as the fast growth of the number of cars is. In the absence of highways, with congested national roads that are filled with lorries and permanently in construction – we shouldn’t be surprised by the foreign tourists’ reticence in choosing our country as a destination. After all, crossing Romania from West to East takes a whole day, almost as long as an experienced driver needs to travel from Romania’s Western border to Paris or Brussels.

To these problems that make the traffic difficult one has to add what we would call, with indulgence, the ‘inability’ of the mayoralties of localities traversed by national roads and of the traffic police to adopt measures that would make the traffic more fluid instead of making it arduous. There are dozens of villages where the road is in good condition, where there is good visibility. The village is on one side of the road, with open field on the other side. Nevertheless, the speed limit stands at 50 kilometres per hour (!). Moreover, most of the times the middle of the road has a continuous white line that forbids overtaking.

Probably as a consequence of repeated repair works, the local authorities forget to place road signs that would show the directions towards other localities. Such signs are either completely absent or are placed only on one of the lanes. But the most serious thing of all falls in the traffic police’s responsibility. I am talking about traffic signs that warn the driver of imminent danger. In some steep slopes the signs that should show the direction of the incoming curve are absent. Or, even more seriously, they are placed erroneously, with the signs warning of a right-hand side curve followed by a left-hand side curve instead of the other way around!

In such conditions we shouldn’t be surprised that the Western tourists avoid Romania, mostly in the case of a trip by car. Nor of the fact that we are losing important investments because of underdeveloped infrastructure, as happened in the case of the Mercedes investment in Hungary back when Romania was avoided precisely for this reason.

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