The nameplates on Croatia’s largest sea bridge are already installed. Final work is still being done on the access roads to the new Peljesac Bridge.
Peljesac – The opening of the 2404 meter long bridge from the Croatian mainland to the Peljesac Peninsula, which is planned for July 26, is not only a tourist turning point for travelers on the way to Dubrovnik: the residents of southern Dalmatia can avoid time-consuming border controls when driving through Save Bosnia’s nine-kilometer-wide access to the sea at Neum in the future.
An Adriatic detour as a shortcut: The bypass of the Neum corridor plus a good 30 new kilometers of motorway will not only significantly reduce travel times and better connect southern Dalmatia with the rest of the country. The Adriatic state also expects the bridge to be an economic revitalization of the Dubrovnik region and the southern Dalmatian islands of Korcula, Lastovo and Mljet, which are plagued by emigration.
Bridging the Bay of Mali Ston was by no means an easy feat. Because of financial problems, but also because of resistance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which feared for its free access to the sea, the construction work on the first bridge project, which began in 2007, was delayed – and stopped in 2010. Croatia’s accession to the EU in 2013 brought new momentum to the bridge plans.
Peljesac Bridge in Croatia: Paid for by Europe but built by China
The Neum Corridor, crossing an EU external border twice, proved to be one of the biggest obstacles to Croatia’s planned entry into the Schengen zone. Alternative options such as the construction of a sea tunnel, new ferry services or considerations of building an extra-territorial EU corridor through Bosnia were discussed, but all were rejected.
Instead, in consultation with its Bosnian neighbors, Zagreb had the Slovenian engineer Marjan Pipenbaher design a bridge concept, the realization of which is largely due to Brussels. In 2018, the EU agreed to assume 85 percent of the costs estimated at 418 million euros. Alongside the Porto Metro, the Peljesac Bridge is one of the most expensive infrastructure projects ever financed by the EU.
Although the bridge was largely paid for by Europe, it was built by China. Because of the cheapest offer and the shortest construction period, the Chinese state-owned company CRBC was awarded the contract to build the prestressed concrete bridge. The Austrian Strabag and the Greek Avax group were commissioned with the complex construction of the access roads due to the necessary tunnels and viaducts.
The bridge builders had to watch out for numerous pitfalls. On the one hand, the bridge was only allowed to cross Croatian waters and, at Sarajevo’s urging, had to be high enough so that larger ships could head for the Bosnian Neum. On the other hand, the bridge was built in an earthquake area with regular storms. In addition, their construction must not endanger the oyster farming in the bay of Mali Ston, which depends on clear water.
Bosnia: alternatives to transit tourism
High windbreak walls on the lanes should allow passage even on stormy days. The bridge has already survived the first involuntary earthquake tests with smaller earthquakes in Bosnia. The first cruise ship on its way to Neum recently passed under the 55 meter high bridge without any problems. Nevertheless, concerns are also being voiced among the neighbors in Bosnia. The loss of transit tourism is likely to result in a loss of income for the catering trade in Neum.
However, the long lead time has enabled Sarajevo to cushion the negative consequences of the bridge construction. With the help of cheap loans from the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the World Bank, a trunk road has been built from Stolac to Neum in recent years – thus improving the connection to the Bosnian hinterland and to Mostar.
In the past Corona summers, the sleepy coastal town experienced an unprecedented boom due to the increased influx of local, but also Serbian travellers. Croatians, on the other hand, have been increasingly heading to the unadorned Neum for family celebrations for years because of the lower costs. The flourishing “wedding tourism” alone should compensate for part of the loss of income from transit tourism.
|Official name||Peljeski most|
|overall length||2404 meters|
|opening||July 26, 2022|
In 2029, the new bridge is to become part of the planned motorway to Dubrovnik
The better connection to the hinterland meanwhile also makes Bosnia’s coastline interesting for the cruise giants. Thanks to the new road, day trips to Mostar, the Kravica waterfalls or the pilgrimage site of Medjugorje can be organized from Neum.
Although the Peljesac Bridge was completed on time, the pandemic had caused construction delays on the access roads – and prevented the opening, which was originally planned before the start of the summer season. The consequences of the Ukraine war also left their mark on the work. Due to increased prices for electricity and building materials, the original cost calculation will hardly hold up.
Like the travelers who will soon be thundering over the bridge, the residents of Ston will also have to be patient while the new, eight-kilometer bypass road is completed. Until the end of the year, the transit traffic through the medieval small town will torment itself. In 2029, the new bridge is to become part of the planned motorway to Dubrovnik. “We connect our territory,” says Minister of Transport Oleg Butkovic. (Thomas Roser)