The future Struma Highway connecting Sofia to the border with Greece will be the first one in Bulgaria to feature special facilities for wild animals such as bears and hares.
Regional Development Minister Rosen Plevneliev told journalists Wednesday that Bulgaria will take after developed Western European countries such as the Netherlands in building highway facilities that protect wild animals.
He spoke at the Road Agency where he opened the bids in the tender for the construction of Lot 1 of the Struma Highway.
Plevneliev criticized a highly controversial project, a tunnel build for brown bears between Bulgaria and Greece near the Ilinden border crossing point, which was supposed to help bears cross the border freely, and was demanded especially strongly by Greek environmentalists.
The minister declared that there will be no tunnels for bears at the Struma Highway because bears did not feel comfortable in them, and that they will be replaced with bridges.
"I just found out that the bears never entered the tunnel near the Ilinden border crossing point, which we took years to build and spend BGN 50-60 M on it," Plevneliev said.
In addition to having a bear bridge over the Struma Highway, which will run through the gorge of the Struma River, the project also provides for a special "rabbit fence" with concrete foundations to keep away rabbits from the road, while also preventing them digging holes at the foundation of the fence.
A record number of bidders – 19 – have applied with offers to build Lot 1 of the Struma Highway – including companies from Bulgaria, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Germany, and Greece.
Plevneliev said the builder of Lot 1 will be selected by August, and the construction will start by September 2011. He expects an average price of EUR 3.2 M per km from the bidders.
The Lot 1 section between Dolna Dikanya and Dupnitsa is 17 km; EUR 68 M are slated for its construction from EU and state funds.
The Struma Highway starts at the Daskalovo road junction to the west of Sofia, where it will be connected with the short Lyulin Highway, and will run to the Kulata border crossing on the Bulgarian border with Greece. Some of the sections of the 156-km road are promised to be completed by the end of the Borisov Cabinet's term in 2013. A total of 19 km have been completed so far.
Lot 2 (from Dupnitsa to Simitli, 45 km) and Lot 3 (from Simitli to Sandanski, 60 km) will be harder to build because of the rough terrain, and the Borisov Cabinet has made it clear it plans to complete Lots 1 and 4 by the end of its term in 2013, and to have made progress on the other two.
The Struma Highway will be a priority for the Bulgarian government in 2011 because of the importance of the traffic and economic ties with Greece, and because it is a part of Pan-European Transport Corridor No. 4 (from Central Europe to Thessaloniki and Athens via Vidin and Sofia).