Bulgaria's Parliament has approved at second reading the founding of a State Company "Strategic Infrastructure Projects", a mega-structure to be in charge of the construction of three largely neglected highway projects.
The new body created with adopted amendments to the Roads Act will seek to accelerate the construction of "strategic infrastructure projects", namely the Struma Highway (running from Sofia to the border with Greece; expected completion date - 2014), the Hemus Highway (running from Sofia to Varna through Northern Bulgaria; expected completion date unknown), or the Cherno More (i.e. Black Sea) Highway (running between Varna and Burgas on the Black Sea coast; expected completion date unknown).
What is more, once these highways are completed, the State Company "Strategic Infrastructure Projects" will be in charge of their management.
The new institution will be funded from the state budget, through the collection of highway tolls, project funding from financial institutions, and donations. It will also deal with all types of additional activities required for the construction and operation of the highways in question, including the land expropriation procedures.
Bulgaria's Regional Development Minister Rosen Plevneliev has made it clear that the new state company will start work in August 2011, and that its budget for 2011 will be BGN 1.1 M. As of 2012, however, the Strategic Infrastructure Projects company will be able to seek EU funding from Operational Program Transport for the construction of the three highways.
The company will be managed by a governing board of three members including its CEO, who will be appointed and dismissed the auspices of the Regional Development Minister.
Unlike the Trakiya Highway (running from Sofia to Varna via Southern Bulgaria; expected completion date – 2012), the Maritsa Highway (running from the Trakiya Highway to the border with Turkey; expected completion date – 2013) and the just completed Lyulin Highway (running from Sofia to the Struma Highway), Struma, Hemus, and Cherno More have been lagging behind.
According to the MPs of the ruling center-right party GERB, Plevneliev's proposal is supposed to accelerate the realization of these major infrastructure projects, and to lead to a more efficient absorption of EU funds, especially under EU's "Transport" operational program.
Bulgaria's Strategic Infrastructure Projects company will have a status of a state enterprise under the Commercial Act.
Opposition MPs such as former Socialist Transport Minister Petar Mutafchiev have criticized the establishment of the new company arguing that it will be eating away at the functions of the existing Road Infrastructure Agency.
The previous head of the Road Infrastructure Agency, Bozhidar Yotov, resigned from his post over disagreement with Regional Development Minister Rosen Plevneliev, including over the establishment of the new statement company for the three above-mentioned highways.
According to preliminary estimates, the planning of the Struma, Hemus, and Cherno More highways will cost EUR 160 M, while their construction will total over EUR 4 B.
The Struma Highway, whose construction is well under way, alone will cost EUR 1.1 B.