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Missing the Plot

Part of the key to economic success is infrastructure. Included in this one would invariably include road infrastructure. It was always a source of amazement that the one road any rational government here in Bulgaria would ensure was in tip top condition was the road leading from Sofia Airport to the city centre, but it is not.

The fact that for over a decade it appeared to be an exaggerated cart track with pot holes the size of bomb craters did not give the first time visitor the best first impression of the country.

Roads also play a vital role in connecting city A with city B and facilitate goods being moved around, across and through the country. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly to government, people also have a need to use these roads; such as at holiday time.

Romanians and other Europeans need to use Bulgarian roads to get to Greece and Turkey and in so doing fund the state in the form of road taxes. Serbs and Macedonians (when they eventually manage to get a visa to visit Bulgaria) also need roads to get them to the Black Sea resorts. Helping them get to the resorts allows them to spend money which in turn funds hotels, restaurants and also yes, the state coffers. So why in 2008 are there still no proper roads to facilitate this?

At the same time, we repeatedly hear the lip service the authorities pay to wanting to attract higher spending tourists and the like. How, when there is a sub-standard road network to allow them to get from point A to point B?

From Sofia to Bourgas should be no more than a 3 hour drive; to Varna it should be no more than 3 ? hours and to the Greek border should be little more than 1 - 1 ? hours. Thus, news that the 'short' 160km Strouma Highway that links the nation's capital with Greece is unlikely to be completed until 2020 will be read with abject amazement by those of a rational mind.

If we believe what we read this is because the work will cost 400 million Euro more than envisaged! 400 million might have sounded like a lot of money in the dark days of the socialist era but that amount today is about the same as the value of the Chelsea football players or, in local terms about 10 Dimitar Berbatov's. Not much really is it!

In what might sound a rather obtuse claim, the lack of an adequate highway network might well hinder the sustainability of the Black Sea resorts. Put quite simply: if people can't travel there easily they wont go!

It's hard to imagine the same scenario in China or Dubai! 'Wait 12 years for a short stretch of highway to be built'. One can bet that in these countries, the realisation of economic musts would ensure such a road building time frame would be months not decades.


Mark Thomas, Jam Advice, specialist travel agency