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(DF) Three Tunnels through Balkan Range Listed among Regional Development Ministry’s Priorities

January 6 (BTA) – Work on the construction of three tunnels through the Balkan Range, construction and repair of roads and adjacent engineering infrastructure, and a complete audit of road projects are the top priorities of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, Minister Grozdan Karadjov said on Thursday. He pointed to problems with the certification of motorways related to their design, the expropriation of land and environmental impact assessment. He said unlawful construction practices on the Hemus Motorway are a fact but they have not been documented. Karadjov warned of a looming problem with the adjustment of construction prices for inflation, which road maintenance companies have begun to demand. The future tunnels through the Balkan Range will run along the mountain passes of Petrohan and Shipka and along a third pass which will be part of the future Black Sea Motorway. The Petrohan and Black Sea tunnel projects are still at a very early stage, with contract award procedures unlikely to start in the next couple of years. The Shipka tunnel project is at a more advanced stage, but Karadjov was surprised to learn that the road in this tunnel will have just two lanes (one in each direction). He proposed two lanes in each direction. Current road maintenance across Bulgaria and road construction work of the last year will be audited. The state budget usually has 300 million leva annually for road maintenance, although everyone knows that such projects total about 1.2 billion leva. The difference is typically secured from the state budget surplus at the end of each year, but the practice will be abolished, the Minister said. In 2022, the Regional Development and Public Works Ministry will provide 2.8 billion leva for the repair of over 3,000 km of roads, including 163 km of motorways. The funding will be earmarked in the 2022 state budget scheme. As for the water and sewerage sector, the Ministry’s overriding priority is to provide pure drinking water. The main efforts up until now have been focused on waste water treatment, but in the future more emphasis will be laid on the treatment of water before it is delivered to users. Currently, the price of water is regulated by the Energy and Water Regulatory Commission. Ways will be sought to compensate water and sewerage companies for the high price of electricity so that they do not operate at a loss. The Ministry will insist that water losses along water supply networks should be reduced. The average water loss ratio is 35 per cent, but it is very difficult for Bulgaria to come down to such a low level, Karadjov said. Water and sewerage operators will be encouraged to raise energy efficiency and to use renewable energy sources. Household sewerage systems should be separated from rainwater harvesting systems. At present, water treatment plants are overburdened by downpours and sometimes break down, Karadjov said. The scope of the toll network will be expanded on roads carrying heavy-duty trucks, to include second-class roads as well. This is likely to happen after the first quarter of 2022. The road use charge will not be increased for now. Energy rehabilitation of residential buildings is also on the agenda of the Regional Development and Public Works Ministry, because home owners are very keen on it, the Minister said. The construction of major bridges is at the conceptual design stage. These include four bridges across the Danube River between Bulgaria and Romania (at Silistra, Russe, Nikopol and Oryahovo) in addition to two existing ones (at Russe and Vidin) and a structure that will run parallel to the Asparuhov Bridge in Varna to carry traffic off the future Black Sea Motorway, Karadjov said. LN/VE //