The newly-constructed Blanka tunnel complex will open to traffic on Saturday, September 19th. The longest city tunnel in Europe was to have been the pride of Prague, but it has been dogged by problems, opening four years late and way over budget.
The Blanka tunnel complex, the city’s costliest ever project, will connect the area west of Prague Castle with Troja district in the north-east. The complex of three tunnels, almost six kilometres long with several multi-level road junctions, was designed to link up with the Prague City Ring Road and is intended to relieve the historic city centre of heavy traffic. It should also give drivers a smoother passage through the city, saving them an estimated 15 minutes.
Although a major construction project of this kind could have been expected to run into some problems, the complications accompanying the Blanka tunnel complex exceeded all expectations. Its planned opening in 2011 was repeatedly postponed and its cost ballooned from a projected 17.8 billion crowns to 43 billion. At one point Metrostav, the company building it, stopped work on the tunnel for several months, claiming Prague City Hall was not paying its bills, an argument which had to be settled by an arbitration court. And, in December of last year, the current mayor of Prague, Adriana Krnáčová, reacted with anger to yet another delay, telling the media that the project had been designed by “idiots” when it emerged that several kilometres of newly-installed electric cables had been damaged by rainwater and had to be replaced. In the end, to avoid further embarrassment, all sides agreed to hold their peace until the tunnel had been completed.
The tunnel is now ready to open to traffic and successfully passed a series of final safety tests on Thursday. However the delays and arguments accompanying it have thrown a damper on its opening. Instead of a fanfare celebration and a launch by a Formula 1 car, Prague City Hall has announced a simple ribbon-cutting ceremony. The Prague councillor in charge of infrastructure, Petr Dolínek, said anything else would have been a farce. And President Miloš Zeman long ago made it clear that he would not be attending Blanka’s opening saying that the project well-reflected the secondary meaning of the word tunnel (siphoning off money from projects by inflating project costs).
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