Minneapolis tragedy raises road-safety questions in the Czech Republic

The collapse of a bridge in the USA, photo: CTK

The collapse of a bridge in the US city of Minneapolis, in which at least four people died, filled the front pages of Czech papers on Friday - and has raised questions about the state of communications here in the Czech Republic. Czech road experts say that the authorities should take the Minneapolis tragedy as a serious warning, because many of the country's roads and bridges are in serious disrepair.

The collapse of a bridge in the USA, photo: CTK
Czech road experts are ringing alarm bells. They claim that over two thousand bridges in the Czech Republic are in urgent need of repair but the money has simply not been made available. In 1996 a government-approved, long-term road maintenance plan proposed a phased out 7-billion-crown investment over the next decade but much of the available finances were channeled into the construction of new highways, leaving many old roads and bridges in serious disrepair. Jan Horeni, head of the Roads and Highways press department, says that close to 300 bridges on the country's main roads need attention.

"We have 4,200 bridges under our jurisdiction on the country's main roads and 293 are in a bad state. In many cases the need for repair is urgent, and we have repeatedly asked for more finances, though we always receive less than we actually need. Ideally we would need 11 billion crowns over the next five years. However, as a state-financed organization all we can do is underline the urgency of the matter and keep asking for more money. In the end we have to make do with whatever money we get."

Photo: CTK
In 2005 a group of prominent Czech architects sent Parliament a warning about the poor maintenance of many road and rail communications, petitioning them to find the necessary finances. They have not received an answer to date. Frantisek Mensik, a road expert with many years of experience, says he hopes that the Minneapolis tragedy will be a wake-up call for the Czech government.

The Transport Ministry is now considering setting up a special fund for bridge maintenance on the country's main roads and highways and regional authorities are revising their own budgets to find extra money for urgent repairs. Even now it is clear that making up for years of neglect will not be easy. Experts say that repair work on the country's 16,000 bridges would require 15 to 25 billion crowns.