Romania’s minister for transport plans privately funded motorways

BUCHAREST – Romania’s transport minister on Friday mapped out plans to boost the country’s crumbling roads by enticing private funds to build highways and using billions of euros of EU and state cash to upgrade existing networks. Shabby communist-era infrastructure is a key concern for Romania, which will join the European Union next year but is struggling to build roads because of a lack of money and inefficient public administration. Speaking to Reuters in a brief interview, Transport Minister Radu Berceanu said he would propose to his centrist government a new strategy which would envisage leasing highways to private contractors who would then construct and manage the roads. The ministry would use state money to modernize the Black Sea state’s existing roads, as well as railway infrastructure, Berceanu said. «If we lease highways, users may have to pay a toll, let’s say 5 euros ($6.36) per every 100 kilometers,» Berceanu said. «Users who do not want to pay the toll will have the alternative of using national roads, which will be properly restored.» According to Berceanu’s estimates, public-private partnerships may help boost highway progress to over 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) over the next 10 years. The mountainous and mostly rural country of 22 million has around 300 kilometers of highways, far less than many other states in Eastern Europe. Foreign investors often complain that crumbling roads and a scant network of highways prevent them from investing in the more remote areas of the country which needs to catch up with its more advanced ex-communist peers which joined the EU in 2004. Berceanu said Romania expected to get 3 billion euros from the EU for transport projects over six years, and could provide state cash worth a similar amount. So far this year, the government has hiked its budget deficit ceiling to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product from an initial 0.5 percent to secure extra cash before it joins the EU.