By Clive Leviev-Sawyer of the Bulgarian Globe
Bulgaria’s Regional Development Minister Dessislava Terzieva officially unveiled the new road stretch between Kurdjali and Podkova in southeastern Bulgaria on February 4, meant to offer a shorter and improved route to the Makaza-Komotini border checkpoint with Greece.
The 24km road stretch will shorten the route by 15km, the regional development ministry said. Additionally, the project included the modernisation of an eight-kilometre road stretch between Kurdjali and Djebel.
However, the opening came following a three-month delay, caused by work to reinforce a bridge and an area with a high risk of landslides. The additional work raised the costs of the project from 32 million leva (about 16.4 million euro) to 54 million leva (27.6 million euro), Bulgarian news website Mediapool.bg reported.
The new road stretch is expected to lead to an increase in heavy cargo traffic, but lorry drivers will have to wait some time still for the final piece of the puzzle – the ring-road around the town of Kurdjali, which will divert heavy traffic that currently is forced to pass through the town centre.
A draft project for the ring-road has already been approved, with technical specifications expected to be detailed by the end of February and work scheduled to begin later this year, Bulgarian broadcaster Darik Radio reported, quoting Kurdjali district governor Bisser Nikolov.
The project will cost 240 million leva (122.7 million euro) and the funding is expected to come mainly under EU’s operational programme for transport, he said.
The long-awaited border checkpoint between Bulgaria and Greece at Makaza-Komotini was opened in September 2013. Linking the towns of Haskovo and Kurdjali in southern Bulgaria to Komotini and Alexandroupolis in Greece, it was the culmination of decades of talks, although actual work on roads through the Makaza Pass in the Rhodope Mountains only began in 2003, when Bulgaria was already an EU candidate country. Initially scheduled to open in 2005, the checkpoint’s opening date has been postponed numerous times.
When the checkpoint opened, cargo traffic was limited to vehicles of up to 3.5 tonnes in weight and passenger vehicles with no more than eight seats (driver excluded) because the existing roads leading to the checkpoint were not suited for heavy lorries. The new road between Kurdjali and Podkova is meant to solve, at least in part, that issue.
The Makaza-Komotini checkpoint, and the new road stretch, are part of the pan-European corridor IX, linking the Baltic Sea ports of Helsinki, Kaliningrad (Russia) and Klaipeda (Lithuania) to the Black Sea ports of Odessa (Ukraine) and Alexandroupolis, passing through St Petersburg, Moscow, Vilnius, Kyiv, Chisinau and Bucharest. The checkpoint is meant to provide the shortest connection to Alexandroupolis and is expected to take on some of the traffic between Bulgaria and Greece that is currently forced to cross the border at other checkpoints.