Croatia goes full speed on a road-building drive

ZAGREB (Reuters) – Croatia said on Wednesday it would intensify its road-building activities and increase investment by 13.5 percent to about 32 billion kuna ($5.69 billion) in the next four years. Around 20 billion kuna will be spent on building new stretches of highway and state roads while the remaining sum will be invested in maintenance. «There is no break in road building. We will carry on at full speed in several directions,» Prime Minister Ivo Sanader told the cabinet session. Croatia plans to open 257 kilometers of highways in the next four years. «We will keep investments in highways at the same level as in the last four years, but increase investment in state roads and their maintenance,» Transport Minister Bozidar Kalmeta said. An international tender for building a 97-kilometer section of a key motorway linking the capital Zagreb with the touristy southern Adriatic is currently running and will close on January 21, 2005. The value of work on a stretch between the southern cities of Split and Ploce is estimated at 5.85 billion kuna. Croatia, which is scheduled to start EU membership talks next March, launched a project to build two major highways in 2001 to prop up its tourist industry on the Adriatic coast. This year it virtually completed the motorway connecting Zagreb with the northern Adriatic port of Rijeka and the other motorway toward Split. Both highways should be fully completed in the next three years. Croatia also plans to complete a highway toward its eastern neighbor Serbia’s border in 2006 and a stretch toward the northeastern Slovenian city of Maribor in 2007. State investment in infrastructure was among the main drivers of Croatia’s strong economic growth in recent years, but analysts say the country will need more private sector activity to keep a decent rate of sustainable growth in the longer term.