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News 03 Nov 17

Bosnia’s Entities Tussle Over Highway to Serbia

Instead of starting work on the planned highway from Sarajevo to Belgrade, Bosnia’s two entities are still busy arguing over the route.

A stretch from Bosnia's A1 highway. Photo: wikimedia commons/Eao-Be

Almost a year since Bosnia and Serbia agreed to build a highway linking their capitals, Bosnia’s two entities remain in a deadlock over the route.

Currently the trip between Sarajevo and Belgrade takes some five hours by car.

The fast road is expected to cut travel time drastically and provide a link between the two countries, both physically and symbolically.

“In Bosnia, the thoughts of the elected officials are considered most important,” Zoran Pavlovic, a Banja Luka-based analyst said, ahead of a meeting between entity and state transport ministers in Banja Luka, northwest Bosnia.

As with any infrastructural project, the primary goals must be defined first, setting out firm economic, demographic and developmental criteria, Pavlovic explained.
A tender should then be called to source the most competent team for the project alongside a feasibility study is conducted to determine the project’s viability.

In Bosnia, however, the politicians have wasted nearly 12 months expressing their personal interests, Pavlovic said.
“Everything here is based on the interests of political parties, because tomorrow it could win them an election.”

Over the past year, the only point of agreement is that a fast road should be built between Sarajevo and Belgrade.

So far, two routes have been mapped.

One passes through Tuzla and Bijeljina in the north and is backed by Bosnia’s mainly Bosniak and Croat Federation entity.

Tuzla is one of the main cities in the Federation, while Bijeljina is in the mostly Serbian Republika Srpska entity, RS.

The other cuts through Visegrad in in the RS the east and is backed by the RS authorities.

The Federation argues that the route running through Tuzla is more viable as it passes through an area populated by some 1.5 million people.

The authorities in the RS, however, want the motorway to remain mostly in the RS, in order to bring economic progress to an area lacking in commercial centres.

While the RS authorities want the road to stay mostly in the RS for political reasons, Pavlovic says the route cannot be determined without the input of those financing it.

In October, Serbia’s Infrastructure Minister Zorana Mihajlovic said that Turkey was expected to join the project, which is expected to cost Serbia alone 830 million euros.

“Financiers must join the dialogue because they may well say: ‘We want to provide the money but we want the cheapest route.’ After that, the representatives of the entities should sit down and express their thoughts, while paying attention to economic viability,” Pavlovic judged.

A Banja Luka based civil engineer told BIRN that the Tuzla-Bijeljina route would be most cost-efficient.

“In addition to the fact that … the Visegrad route … is not a developed region, the terrain is unfavourable for construction work,” he said.

“This route would require many tunnels, bridges and viaducts, which would be expensive,” the civil engineer who chose to remain anonymous, said.

Pavlovic said Bosnia should pay particular attention to the potential development factor, given the country’s high rate of unemployment.

“Perhaps this is the most important criterion, but it must be determined via an economic study,” he said.

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