A transport network in the region would serve a catalyst for long-term economic growth, experts said.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 24/07/12
The region's key road networks include major trans-European transport routes such as Corridor X and Corridor 8. [Laura Hasani/SETimes]
According to the World Bank, the road conditions in the Western Balkans are a major problem for the region's competitiveness, with bottlenecks in the road network affecting the regional market integration.
Less than half the road networks in the region are considered to be "in good or fair condition. This leads to extra costs and contributes to uneven economic and social development, isolating many from markets and opportunity," Baher El-Hifnawi, programme leader of the Sustainable Development Sector at the World Bank, told SETimes.
Road safety is another problem, leading to deaths and injuries, and burdening the economy with the costs in some cases up to 2%[of annual] GDP," El-Hifnawi said.
"Serbia alone needs about 300m euros annually just for proper road maintenance. All regional countries have ambitious plans to invest in their road networks, but are particularly constrained by the current eurozone economic problems," he added.
The World Bank provided 321m euros to Serbia to develop Corridor X, a major roadway connecting the country with its northern and southern neighbours, and serving as a main transit route for EU commercial transport.
The region's key networks include major trans-European transport routes such as Corridor X -- which runs from Austria to Greece and Turkey, and Corridor 8 -- running from the Durres port in Albania to the Black Sea ports in Bulgaria.
US-based Bechtel Corporation and Turkey-based Enka are working on major road infrastructures in the Balkans: motorways in Croatia, Albania and Turkey, and a section of motorway in Romania.
In Albania, they built the country's only motorway -- a vital connection between Kosovo, Northern Albania and the Albanian port of Durres.
Bechtel and Enka recently delivered the second stretch of the Kosovo motorway. When this project started in 2007, "all this was just a dream," Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said in early July.
"Today, this dream is becoming a reality that is changing, modernising the state of Kosovo, developing it, and creating new jobs," Thaci said, pointing out that the result of the project is the trip from Pristina to Durres, previously a 12-hour drive, is now a two- to three-hour drive.
The 2013 completion of the Kosovo motorway should become the core of the country's transport system, promoting trade and economic development in the country and the region.
"There is a genuine understanding in these countries that new or improved road infrastructure brings immediate and long-term economic benefits in modern and developing economies," David Welch, Bechtel president for Europe, Asia, Middle East, told SETimes.
The company prefers to employ and train local work force, suppliers and contractors. "In Kosovo, for example, our motorway project currently employs over 70% locals, and over 60% of sub-contracted work has gone to local contractors," Welch said.
Regional governments are eager to build. "The construction of highways will yield its results over the coming years," Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said in April at the launch of construction on Bulgaria's Trakiya Highway.
In April, Serbia announced the construction of the 40km, Belgrade-Southern Adriatic highway, envisioned for completion by 2015. The highway is planned to connect Serbia and Montenegro with Romania and Italy.
Macedonia is preparing to build a 28-km section of Corridor 10 by 2017 -- connecting the country with Serbia, Greece and Europe.
Borisov was steadfast in June, calling for a network of highways encompassing the Balkans. "Not having highways and railways linking the capitals of all Balkan nations is unacceptable. This is the time to build in the Balkans."