Roads to Nowhere

Article excerpt

While they have come a long way in the past seventeen years, Romania's road and rail sectors still face a serious capacity crisis, which has practically blocked the majority of investments and rehabilitation of infrastructure for more than two years. Roads and railways ensure together over 90% of the transport in Romania, with roads being increasingly the most important mode', reflecting the fact that transport networks in our country are based almost entirely on roads and railways.

But recent trends in this sector are particularly alarming, especially when we speak about government's capacity to develop and manage the sector's public infrastructure:

* a severe loss of previously existing human and institutional capacity, at a time when projects are expected to increase significantly,

* little (and diminishing) planning and programming ability in the public sector;

* a lack of strategic vision, massive political interference in what should be technical decisions;

* basic financial insolvency of the sector. Reforms need to be consistently enforced in order to create an institutional framework for the transport infrastructure which would ensure sustainability.

WHERE WE ARE

1. Romania's roads to join the EU?

Overly simplistic and misleading comparisons are usually published which are based on network density indicators. According to this figures, Romania's road density is one third of EU-25 average, whereas the rail density is comparable with that of the EU.

It is unrealistic to say that Romania's infrastructure should reach EU levels in 15-20 years. The need for transport in Romania is currently still much lower than in the EU. It grows faster than the economy as a whole, but will certainly still remain under EU levels for the following two or three decades. Therefore, the investment needs in the infrastructure should be driven mainly by the economic development perspectives of the country. It is also impractical to judge the road network simply in terms of motorway density compared to Western countries: it may very well be the case that Romania is simply not "mobile" enough to justify such a fast motorway development.

What should really be judged here is how transport infrastructure can provide safe transportation at speeds that do not become bottlenecks for economic development. In this respect, what is really worrying is that Romania's national roads are by far the most dangerous in the EU. The number of fatalities per passenger*car is three times as high as the EU-25 average. While in Europe only one in 40 accidents ends with fatalities, in Romania the proportion is one in three (Fig. 1).

Culprits are not just the irresponsible driving habits of Romanians, as hasty commentators put it much too easily, but also the black spots, the crossing of linear villages / towns / cities without proper mitigation measures against accident risks, and the small local traffic using national roads for lack of a better alternative.

Black spots appear mainly because of the lack of maintenance. An evaluation in 2005 done by CESTRIN, the research arm of CNADNR, showed that around 30% of the national roads are in poor condition. This is caused by a serious backlog in maintenance, around 60% of the network needing urgent fixing or rehabilitation.

In the rush to "absorb free EU money"--not very successful so far anyway--maintenance of existing infrastructure is often overlooked by the transport sector management, as well as by the public. On average, maintenance costs for roads are much higher in Romania than in neighboring countries, which reflects a lack of attention and public awareness to the importance of these operations. A recent World Bank report (2006) shows that potential savings on timely maintenance could be as high as 40%. In 2003-2004, CNADNR spent 0.5% of GDP on maintenance (cost per km is about EUR 20,500, significantly higher than EU-25 or US average). …