Minister Tsekov: The criterion of the lowest price for roads does not mean a quality below the permissible level

Non-compliance with strategic documents and political instability are the biggest obstacle to the investment process, the regional minister is categorical

Energy / Bulgaria
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The main reform in regional development is to start working in a planned and strategic manner, based on nationally established priorities, with which the entire investment program of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, which is an investor in public goods for the benefit of society - highways, municipal projects, rehabilitation, etc. This was stated by the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works Andrey Tsekov before the BNR. He clarified that the reform has started, and such a strategic approach has not been applied in our country in the last 20 years. He added: "Political instability is a huge obstacle to the investment process. But the biggest obstacle is the non-compliance with strategic documents that we have. Already 20 years ago, Bulgaria decided which are the main transport corridors that it should plan and build accordingly. Very few steps have been taken to ensure project readiness."

The regional minister explained that the continuation of the construction of the "Struma" highway without the loss of European funds and the removal of traffic outside the Kresna gorge is included in the management program. The autobahn is a project with a 20-year history, and in 2007 the construction of the first sections began. The section between Simitli and Kresna remained from the "Struma" AM. A final EC decision on the highway vision is expected in the new week so that design and identification of a second two-lane road outside the gorge can begin. In this way, biodiversity will be protected and a normal transport corridor will be ensured, as the gorge is not a suitable transport corridor for an expressway, the regional minister stressed.

With regard to the changes in the ZUT, providing for the settlement of the case with illegal infrastructure objects, Tsekov specified that the document was withdrawn due to political reasons related to the talks on the justice reform. The draft law is good and necessary, and it should enter the National Assembly, the regional minister emphasized. MRDPW must ensure the use of the structures in question so that they are safe. Liability should be sought where it is found that they do not meet building codes. In the last 15-20 years, constructions have been carried out without building permits, such as major repairs of viaducts on the "Hemus" and "Trakia" highways, on the "Echemishka" tunnel, the connecting water pipeline connecting the "Yastrebino" dam with the town of Omurtag, dam walls. And now the relevant infrastructure is being used, but we have no documentary assurance that it complies with building standards, explained Tsekov. The purpose of the changes in the law is to find a way for objects that do not meet the standards, to remove the technical defects and then legalize them. "The key here is to test them. To establish whether they comply with construction rules and norms, whether they are safe for use, as they are currently being used by citizens. We drive on the highways in question, we use the relevant infrastructure, but we have no documentary assurance that they meet construction standards. The bill in question provided for those who responded to be commissioned. Those who do not answer - for them, let's look for a way how to remove the technical defects, to fix U-turns, if there are any on the turns, so that accidents like the one with the bus with the Macedonian citizens on the Struma highway do not happen. And then they will barely be legalized," explained Tsekov.

The regional minister recalled that at the end of the summer of 2023, checks for flatness with a profiler and drilling samples of republican roads, where the warranty period expires, were launched. In the period September-December, 41 sections, 680 km of road network were checked, more than 800 nuts were taken - one per 2000 sq. m. At a quarter of the checked sections, a thinner asphalt coating was found than planned by the project. Complaints have been made, with more than half of the deficiencies being remedied. "We have protected the state interest to ensure roads that meet the norms," Tsekov said.

The Minister of Regional Development and Public Works was adamant that the lowest price criterion does not mean a quality below the acceptable level. The project of a given infrastructure object determines how thick the layers should be, and the contractor is obliged to comply. The problem throughout the years is the lack of control and responsibility. The only way to ensure quality is to exercise control during construction - this is the responsibility of both contractors and supervisory companies, as well as the investor - in this case the Road Infrastructure Agency. While the road is being built, in the moment in which a certain section is completed or before its acceptance by the contracting authority, the corresponding samples must be made. This is what we are currently doing for the new participants, so that it is guaranteed that the implementation is exactly as set by the contract, assured Minister Tsekov.

The assignments of the five highways on which work was done were done without a guarantee of project readiness. "Basically, it is not normal for the state to build five highways. But that's how they're assigned. Can it? It is possible at the moment, since again the assignments were made without project readiness being ensured. And in fact, we have some assignments from 2019-2020, for example, on the Hemus highway, without any projects. Since the same period, we have been awarded the highway between Vidin and Botevgrad without projects, without detailed development plans, without expropriation procedures. This is also not normal. At the moment, project readiness has already been ensured to be able to work on all sections", explained Tsekov. He specified that he was talking about all sections between Vidin and Botevgrad. On the "Hemus" highway, the project readiness is such that a construction permit has been issued for sections 1 to 3, sections 4 to 6 will be issued within the month of May, a construction permit has been issued for the highway between Ruse and Byala for one section, will be issued for the remaining sections also around the middle of the year. At the same time, the highway between Dupnitsa and Gueshevo is in the process of being designed. For AM "Black Sea" two routes have been selected at this stage, on which an environmental assessment must be made. So, the 1 billion BGN set in the budget for highways will be enough, as we have different degrees of project readiness for different projects. If we had a ready-made project and issued building permits for all of them, then we should have several billion at our disposal, Andrey Tsekov explained.

The certification process of the toll cameras for measuring average speed and the software is expected to be completed within two to three months, the regional minister also informed. He explained that the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications cannot apply sanctions under the road law and the Ministry of the Interior must operate the system.

Tsekov also commented on the political situation, which, according to him, is now not much different from 9 months ago, when the Denkov/Gabriel cabinet was formed. From the moment of its formation, the ministers have management tasks according to the program and fulfill them. "In such a complex political structure, it is very difficult to work with ultimatums. Consensus should be sought where possible, without violating principles," said Andrey Tsekov. He added that if there is a rotating government, he would finish the work he started, because in regional development, 9 months are not enough to carry out reforms, to start or finish key projects.

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