Heading in a new direction?

Leszek Miller's government says it is committed to improving Poland's infrastructure, and high on its list of priorities is a modern motorway and road system. Here TADEUSZ SUWARA, Director of the new 'General Directorate of National Roads and Motorways' talks about how he intends to move forward, revealing that the preferred method of finance is now the 'winiet' system.

When foreigners talk about Poland, two topics generally come up: the beautiful women and the bad state of the roads. What is your comment on this?

This is true but not totally true. Of course I don't deny we have nice women. But we lack motorways and in many cases the surface is in a bad state. The main roads connect both long-distance and local traffic and this is unsatisfactory. This means we have a lot of needs and we have a lot to do.

Why isn't the development of a good motorway system in Poland treated as a national emergency?

It has been a priority over the last few years but the reality has been a little bit different. Why? At the beginning of the 90's expenditure on roads decreased 3 or 4 times while at the same time traffic increased rapidly. Where previously most mass goods were transported by rail, under the new system more goods started to be transported by road. But the roads weren't designed for these loads and they deteriorated. So we had to focus on maintenance of existing roads. But the new government recognizes very seriously the priority of motorway development and is also willing to find the money, a lot of money, for this. So I think that now there is an emergency.

So how will the motorways now be financed?

Of course we don't expect a large increase from budgetary funds. But we expect, and the government is willing, to borrow more money from international financial institutions. Second, we expect quite a lot of European money from cohesion and other funds.

Will this money really come?

Yes, it is already coming now but if we join the EU the money could be as much as 3 times what it is now. And now the government is proposing to introduce the 'winiet' (vignette) system, the same as in Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This is the sticker on the windshield (which car owners purchase annually in order to use major roads -ed.). We have it now for commercial vehicles but we propose introducing it for all passenger cars. Another thing is to develop road and motorway funds, funds which could borrow money, issue bonds and raise finance in other ways.

How will these funds be set up?

We currently have experts working on this and we hope to have some conclusions by the end of the month. There are several proposals but firstly the funds have to have a legal identity - that is some kind of 'spólka skarbo panstwa' (government owned company). This is necessary for issuing bonds, for instance. They will be created as separate structures that can operate on the market and earn money. The objective would be to invest in major roads according to the government's programme, which also includes express roads, strengthening of the main roads and bypasses etc.

Does this mean the concession system will not be used?

This is something I can't answer now because discussions are underway. If we introduce 'winiets' we probably can't keep the toll system, and the intention of the new government is not to develop the toll system.
The problem is what to do with these existing concession sections. There are examples in Austria where the vignette system is used but the tunnels are tolled. There is a discussion underway over what to do.

What are your personal priorities in your new position?

My biggest duty is to introduce the government's programme. How? Firstly through organization. We have to merge the motorway agency and GDDP in such a way that this government's strategy and programme can be implemented. Secondly we have to prepare the necessary legal changes. We have the problem with land acquisition, the problem with blocking of development by ecologists and others. So now we are preparing changes and amendments to existing laws to facilitate the implementation of this programme.

How long do you think this will take?

We hope that by June these amendments will go through Parliament. There are many laws: The road and motorway act, the land acquisition act, the environmental act and others. Of course the result will depend on parliamentary work but we hope that the changes will be serious and far-reaching.

Is the political establishment supportive of these changes?

Yes, generally Parliament understands that one person or organization shouldn't stop major public investments. People know that we have to have a different law for linear investments than for single investments. It's quite different to build one building. But in our situation we deal with thousands of small landowners. (The coming changes) will enable us to simplify the process. Of course every owner has to receive compensation but they shouldn't be able to stop the investment.

What are the plans for the A2 as it goes past Warsaw?

We are not fully responsible for this but we are involved. Negotiations (with Warsaw authorities) are going on too long. We are waiting for the new constitution in the Autumn when Warsaw will be one entity. After this I hope it will be possible to complete the negotiations with Warsaw authorities on the route of this road.

Where do you think it will pass Warsaw?

I think it has to pass through Ursynów, maybe through a tunnel.

There's a lot of opposition to it going through Ursynów isn't there?

There's no better way. South of Warsaw it's very difficult environmentally. If not in Ursynów then it would have to be Grójec (46 kms south of Warsaw on the road to Radom - ed.) but this would not be economically justified. So we suggest building a transit for heavy vehicles through Grójec and leave Warsaw with passenger traffic.

So when do you think this will be built?

In the next 5 to 6 years. Our plan is that the motorway to the Bielo-Russian border will be completed by 2010. But we will need to reach an agreement very soon. I recently met the President of Warsaw Mr Kozak and we agreed that negotiations have to be held very soon after elections.

I read that construction of the A2 and A4 are priorities over the A1. Is this still the case?

All are priorities, the difference being that on the A4 and A2 work has started. On the A4 it will be possible to drive between Krakow and Berlin by 2005. On the A2 work is due to start this year. But on the A1 no construction has started. Our priority is that construction work will be completed or underway by 2005 on the A4 (from the German border) to Krakow as I've said, on the A2 between the German border and Warsaw and to have construction on the A1 underway between Gdansk and Czestochowa by 2005. Concerning the A1, Gdansk to Torun is the first priority, and Łodz to Czestechowa the second.

So when do you think it will be possible to drive from the German border to Warsaw?

It's difficult but let's say 2006 or 2007.

Do you have any specific targets in terms of kms?

Yes, we promise to construct 550 kms of motorway by 2005 and 200km of exit roads. But on the motorways not all will be new; some will be re-constructed. For example between Wroclaw and the German border the existing motorway is terrible, not bad but terrible. It will be re-constructed and included in the figure of 550 kms.

Is it true that the motorway system wasn't improved in communist times so the NATO tanks couldn't get through Poland easily? Also, is the reason why the best road was the one connecting Warsaw to Katowice because former prime minister Gierek lived in Katowice?

This (about Gierek) is true, completely true, but on your first question I am not a military officer so I can't say about that, but I know that tanks do not go on main roads but rather secondary roads. I know that one bomb can destroy a motorway and then it's finished. But of course it was true that Gierek lived in Katowice and he decided to build this road. But you also have to bear in mind that Katowice is the major industrial region and Warsaw is the biggest urban area. But in 2 years time Wroclaw to Krakow will be the best road... and in 2005 up to the German border.