Following EC Warning, Croatia Investing 2 Billion Kuna into Road Tunnels

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik writes on the 21st of October, 2019, Croatia has been warned by the European Commission (EC) for not complying with its tunnels with Directive 2004-54-EC on the minimum safety conditions for tunnels longer than 500 metres along the trans-European network.

For the same reason, Italy, Spain and Bulgaria and Belgium also received a warning. As far as Croatia is concerned, as the Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure informs, the warning regards a total of 34 tunnels on motorways and expressways operated by Croatian motorways (Hrvatske autoceste), the Rijeka-Zagreb motorway, Bina Istra, the Zagreb-Macelj motorway and Croatian roads.

For all these tunnels to properly comply with the Directive, it is estimated that just over two billion kuna will need to be invested. Most of this amount is related to the Učka tunnel, accounting for about 1.48 billion kuna, and for others, about 500 million kuna needs to be allocated. For other tunnels, it is necessary to invest just over 60 million kuna and this is mostly related to minor shortcomings, according to Vecernji list.

The Ministry has already prepared an EC response detailing the situation for each tunnel and what has been done so far and what is being done to eliminate non-compliance with the Directive. Therefore, they expect that the EC will accept this statement and that it will not end up in the EU Court, meaning that hopefully penalties won’t need to be paid.

The Učka tunnel, for one, does not comply with the Directive entirely. One relates to escape routes and exits in case of emergency. It is determined that emergency exits are necessary if relevant risk analysis shows that they’re needed. From this point on, the EC will want to find out from Croatia about Učka’s full compliance with this point of the Directive, and that it will be achieved by providing evacuation routes.

Until it is built, compensatory measures are being implemented, so that four professional firefighters are on duty 24 hours per day, seven days per week in the tunnel, and the evacuation of users is also triggered by special traffic signaling, which directs users to the three existing turns to exit the tunnel.

The EC will also be informed that the situation is being dealt with appropriately by Bina Istra, for which the location and building permits have already been issued. However, this also requires approvals from the EC, and the final decision depends on the conditions on the capital market that should be acceptable to the concessionaire to make that investment.

It is expected that this could be resolved next year. The Brezovica tunnel is also non-harmonised under this point of the directive, and compensatory measures are being implemented, meaning that the installation of alarm systems is in progress, and additional fire extinguishing water is being provided.

According to the EC letter, Croatian tunnels should be harmonised in a total of 26 points according to the Directive.

Other discrepancies include, for example, the installation of evacuation lights at a height of not more than 1.5 metres, which should be changed, for example in the Sveti Rok and Mala Kapela tunnels, where these lights are now at a height of up to 1.2 metres.

The design procurement is underway and the mismatch will be resolved by December 2020. For example, in Mala Kapela, the distance between the two emergency stations is 280 metres, and the Directive states that it should not exceed 250 metres. The design procurement process is also underway and the works should be completed by the end of 2020.

For example, a hydrant network needs to be built in the Bisko and Stražina tunnels. Other discrepancies relate, for example, to information radio station information signs available in tunnels, and to clearly visible signs.

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