Improving Roads, Improving Lives
May 2, 2014
Six years ago, it took public buses an additional 30 minutes than it does today to travel from the town of Burgas, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, to the small, southern town of Malko Tarnovo. Travel time has decreased along this 62 kilometer route thanks to improvements along the main road – offering residents in the remote town of Malko Tarnovo better access to services, especially healthcare. The new road has also improved access into the town, stimulating economic activity by doubling tourism in the area.
This is just one of the many examples of success resulting from the Roads Rehabilitation Project in Bulgaria, which repaired 310 kilometers of roads, connecting smaller towns and villages with bigger cities. Nearly 80% of the national road network in Bulgaria are second and third tier roads, meaning that improving these roads improves the lives of the people who live in the smaller areas along these roads, and who rely on this transportation network for their livelihoods.
When Bulgaria became a member of the European Union in 2007, it also became eligible to draw upon EU grants to build and modernize its infrastructure, including roads. The project ensures that funds from the European Union (EU) used to procure equipment are spent wisely and transparently. The equipment is now being deployed across the country for all road projects – ensuring that improvements to both roads and livelihoods will continue well beyond the life of the project itself.
Malko Tarnovo is a small town situated on the Bulgarian-Turkish border. This is a far out region and a sparsely populated one. Without transportation links, it would be lost. People’s lives have improved greatly [as a result of the project], both in the town and the neighboring villages.
By receiving EU funds, the government of Bulgaria also accepted the responsibility of creating institutions and frameworks focused on quality. Assistance from the Roads Rehabilitation Project helped the highway administration in Bulgaria to develop a modern roads management system that maintains up-to-date information on the road conditions in the country.
As part of this work, the Bulgarian Roads Infrastructure Agency purchased modern equipment to monitor the quality of the ongoing construction along the country’s road network. The equipment engaged for this task includes a fleet of vehicles that can test roughness, friction, and load-bearing capacity of pavement. In addition to these vehicles, a new mobile highway laboratory for testing materials is also being used by the Roads Agency to test the pavement along two motorways, currently under construction.
Bridge data collection equipment in this laboratory monitors and stores information about the conditions of the highways, and special software allows the Roads Agency to collect and process this information to better guide necessary repairs.
Upgrading Bulgaria’s transport infrastructure to meet EU requirements also means improving road safety. Recent data shows that about 600 fatal crashes occur in the country every year – higher in comparison to other EU countries. Roughly equal numbers of accidents occur in both rural and urban areas in Bulgaria, while countries with better road traffic safety records experience a higher percentage of fatal crashes in rural areas. Human factors, coupled with traffic and weaknesses in traffic management and enforcement, contribute to traffic accidents.
New designs for 25 high risk areas known as ‘black spots’ were introduced under this project – much to the satisfaction of the people living near these black spots.
Many residents in the village of Svetlen in Northeast Bulgaria, for example, have testified that road safety in the area has improved significantly since the main junction in the village was redesigned to help prevent accidents.
According to many residents, drivers who drove too fast – and who were often drunk – ended up in the yard of the downtown church. These incidents have decreased as a result of the improvements.
Another major improvement, according to the people in the village, is renovated sidewalks, which represents the first new improvement in the village’s infrastructure for many years.
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