New stretches of motorway will have Prague battling enormous traffic

In the Czech Republic, the first motorway was opened as late as in 1971. It was completed many years after construction, slowed down by the Second World War and the Communists, began. By the time the Communist regime fell, the only motorway that was fully completed was that connecting Prague to Brno, which somewhat unusually runs through the heart of the Czech capital. Increasing road construction is gradually overwhelming Prague with traffic. But experts say the worst has yet to come. With the country now an EU member, there is great pressure to have a complete network of motorways that connects the country's regions and Prague to neighbouring states. Dita Asiedu reports:

Endless lines of cars bumper to bumper, nervous motorists honking away, an ambulance tries to squeeze through congested traffic. Prague drivers think their commute around the city is a curse. But experts warn that as soon as new stretches of motorway leading into the city open this year and next year, this nightmare may then seem to have been a walk in the park. Paradoxically, one of them is Jan Horeni, the spokesman for the Czech Road and Motorway Directorate, which is actually responsible for the construction of some of the roads:

"The year 2006 will see a record 70-km stretch of motorway opened. This will surely increase the number of visitors to Prague but it will also help to relieve villages and smaller towns of passing-through traffic. The problem with Prague is that all motorways lead to the city and there is nothing that diverts the traffic. It is therefore imperative that the ring road is completed as soon as possible. So far, only 17 of the 80 or more planned kilometres have been completed. But some districts on the outskirts of Prague are blocking this plan and are delaying construction."

But as Miroslav Reichart from City Hall's transport department says, a new plan need not be adopted to battle the expected influx of cars:

"Holding a discussion on how Prague should brace itself for more traffic in the future is unnecessary, because we have been working on ways to manage traffic ever since the 1990s. We introduced measures to block some of the traffic coming into the city and together with the public transport authority are now offering parking spaces to drivers close to metro stations. People are warming up to the idea of parking their cars on the outskirts of Prague and commuting to the centre by public transport."

Prague's lack of a ring road, experts say, is the key problem. Mr Reichart, says the most important part is already under construction and expects the entire ring road to be completed by 2013. So, until then, Prague residents will most likely have to battle heavy traffic and pollution and, if they live in a congested part of the city, hope that they will not need the quick services of an ambulance.