Motorways agency says will look again at costly and lengthy D1 modernisation

Photo: Petr Jansa

Drivers can be almost guaranteed a bumpy ride and delays on the country’s busiest stretch of motorway between Prague and Brno. Much of motorway is already in a poor state and modernization work on a few selected stretches have caused long queues. Now a debate has reopened over whether the Road and Motorway Agency is going about the reconstruction in the right way.

Photo: Petr Jansa
The D1 motorway is the Czech Republic’s main artery stretching from Prague to the second city Brno and then onwards to Ostrava. But the oldest stretches of the road constructed in large part at the end of the 1960’s are now showing their age. Driving on the route is often so bumpy that it often gives the impression that your wheels are square.

A staged six year modernization was launched last year but work on some of the sections almost immediately sparked disagreements between the contractors and the state Road and Motorway Agency with completion of the work looking like it will be significantly delayed.

Long queues have developed, occasionally stretching for up to 30 kilometres, on some of the sections and these are not even on the most used parts of the motorway, such as near Prague and Brno where on average around 100,000 and 70,000 vehicles a day pass by.

The head of the highways agency Jan Kubiš this week broached the problem and said that a faster and cheaper method of carrying out the modernization will now be looked at. Instead of digging up the existing concrete surface and base only the surface would be removed and covered in asphalt. So-called fragmentation is a commonly used procedure across Europe.

One of the main backers of this approach are members of a so-called shadow highways agency created by Czech coach service business and billionaire Radim Jančura. A leading member of the shadow agency is Jiří Petrák, until recently the head of the Prague office of international engineering and construction company Mott Macdonald.

I asked Mr. Petrák what the main problem was with the way the agency has organized the work so far:

“The main problem is that conceptually the modernization is too costly and too long in its execution. These are the main problems that we criticize.”

How much more expensive is the process and how longer is it than it should be.

Photo: Daniel Burda
“The problem with the motorway is that the surface quality has deteriorated so much that it needs to be improved. Conceptually the Road and Motorway Directorate has picked a method which calls for the replacement of both surface layers which are around half a meter thick with a new concrete structure. We propose that it would be much better to adopt the usual way of strengthening by adding a new asphalt layer, which is the usual way of modernising and improving the surface quality of motorways. There is at least a 60 percent difference in the cost for the overlay and there is probably a similar saving in time, about 60 percent.”

People say that if you use this method then the surface will last 10 to 15 years and then more work again would be needed. Is that correct?

“Every surface goes through a process of deterioration. With a new concrete surface we should assume that in 25 to 30 years that surface will need to be replaced again or need to be overlaid. But with this overlay now, with the properly designed thick overlay, the top surface layer would just be replaced every 15 years. Certainly there is some cost, but it’s still a fraction of the cost and every 15 years we have a perfect new surface, which is relatively cheap. Or, every 30 years we replace the concrete structure. This method is much more economical.”