Bulgaria outlines infrastructure improvements

SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s government proposed yesterday to plow more than 8.5 billion euros into infrastructure projects by 2015 to boost foreign investment and improve living standards after planned EU entry in 2007. The poorest EU member or candidate save Turkey, Bulgaria put off major infrastructure spending after an economic meltdown last decade and is struggling to deal with potholed roads, outdated airports and run-down railways. The Socialist-led government said it wanted to spend 3.3 billion euros ($4.21 billion) by 2015 on 720 kilometers (432 miles) of new highways to link its major cities with neighboring states and the Black Sea coast. Another 1.18 billion euros will go toward repairing and building new roads and railways and 2.2 billion euros will go to water purification stations – mostly in villages with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants – as well as sewage and waste disposal. «By the end of this government’s mandate some 913 kilometers of road infrastructure will be modernized,» the Cabinet said in a statement that gave a summary of the draft strategy. It said it would finance the projects with EU cohesion funds, the state budget and other resources, including the participation of private companies. The government will publish the strategy and open it to public discussion, probably on May 31, before approving the proposals. With economic output around a third of the EU average, Bulgaria sees its planned accession to the bloc as the best way to close the yawning gap with richer Western states. But it must still make major improvements to its dilapidated rail, road and port systems which businesses say stifle production and send potential investors elsewhere. «Some 90 percent of the railways in the country have exhausted their life spans,» the government said. Other projects proposed in the draft include spending 315 million euros on sea and river water ports and a 236-million-euro bridge spanning the Danube to Romania. The plan also outlines, without giving a price, the renovation of Bulgaria’s main airport in Sofia.