- Tourist, transit and freight traffic is increasing
- Bulgaria is at the center of a region with growing potential for exports to Europe.
- Entering Schengen would be the fastest solution to the problem.
The queue of trucks on the Danube bridge near Ruse runs for 20 kilometers. The path of the second Danube Bridge near Vidin (Danube Bridge II) is no different. On the border with Greece - Kulata, trucks are fewer, but the queues of cars are double and triple. And, of course, there is the now infamous Kapitan Andreevo, where trucks wait for days to pass the EU border with Asia (and get extorted).
There are several main reasons for the chock-a-block borders - some of which are perhaps unavoidable and unpredictable, but some of which are longstanding.
The war that shut down both Ukraine and Russia and the Black Sea surely falls into the unpredictable category. The drying of the Danube River, a major transport channel, certainly undermined logistics. Also, the pandemic altered supply chains and goods began to move more overland, turning a short-term factor into a long-term change.
However, the country did not adequately prepare for the gridlock. Official data shows that two more borders appeared in the top 5 of the country's busiest points in the last ten years - Kulata and the new bridge near Vidin (Danube Bridge II). This speaks of large-scale changes in traffic directions, and also in the plans of businesses and people. We move more and travel outside more, and so do our neighbors. Bulgarian companies are exporting more and more, as are neighboring countries. It is no coincidence that the two new busy directions are precisely those where new infrastructure has appeared: the Struma highway and the Danube bridge II. We are much more connected to the surrounding countries than our roads and borders suggest, and yet even more unprepared for the future than the data reveals.
One quick solution to the problem could be entering Schengen, but it is quite possible for Bulgaria to find itself isolated outside the borderless zone if Romania and Croatia enter. This will double the border nightmare.
The road to Greece - Kulata
This road entered the news in summer with the kilometer-long queues of holidaymakers - Bulgarians, Greeks, Romanians, and an increasing number of Moldovans, Ukrainians and Serbs. On the way to their summer vacation, they languish in their cars sometimes for hours on end, stuck on the highway leading to the Kulata border checkpoint.
The analysis of the National Border Police indicates that approximately 1 million vehicles and 2.5 million people passed through the border points on the Bulgarian-Greek border during the period May - July 2022.
Trucks champion - Kapitan Andreevo
Turkey is an exporter with increasing potential for Europe, with a large part of the cargo transiting through Bulgaria and mainly through BCCP Kapitan Andreevo. This is the busiest point in the country in terms of cargo traffic.
Last year, 887,000 vehicles passed through it, which means almost every fifth truck used this point. This year, due to the blockade of the Black Sea, there is a growth of 17% from January - June, so the record of over 1 million tons per year will be broken.
Kapitan Andreevo became infamous this year following revelations about the outsourcing of food inspections and disinfection at the border. During GERB's rule, this was made by the private company Eurolab 2011. The loss of control of the southern border of the country has cost the state 200 to 300 million levs in revenues, and also opened the door to an annual income of criminal operations amounting to 1-1.5 billion euros.
On the West - Kalotina
The border crossings near Kalotina traditionally experience delays and long queues, especially in the summer, and statistics confirm that.
This happens even though the border with Serbia is not traditionally a preferred exit to Europe for trucks, as it is not a member of the EU. "Our customers avoid crossing through Serbia. The long queues at the border with Romania still cause diversions along our western border," notes Raya Rendakova, commercial director of the transport company Gopet Trans.
The biggest traffic jams occur on the northern border of Bulgaria. Every summer, Vidin is completely blocked by twenty-kilometer queues, and the second busiest border point, Ruse, has not been able to cope with its traffic problems for more than a decade.
Vidin: jams at the Danube bridge II
Since the Danube Bridge II near Vidin was completed in 2013, the border crossing has become one of the main points for crossing the Bulgarian border - in the first year alone, 436,000 cars passed through it. Since 2017, the Danube Bridge - Vidin has become an integral part of the top 5 of the busiest points in the country with an average of more than 1 million vehicles crossing per year.
But the queues are extremely long. Several factors account for this. The first is the critically low level of the Danube River, which itself is so dry that there is a stone beach strip.
"There are several additional factors contributing to the load. These include the Oryahovo ferry, which is currently out of service due to critically low water levels on the Danube River, as well as the fact that there are no ferries or cargo ships on the Black Sea because of the war in Ukraine. This is diverting the flow from cargo that traditionally comes by sea from Turkey, on the roads to Ruse and Vidin," says Ludmil Lyubenov, executive director of the Danube Bridge Vidin - Kalafat company.
Another reason is the customs booth, which is located approximately a kilometer from the border itself. There, a Romanian customs officer randomly stops some of the trucks. Then they are checked again at the border.
Ruse's "golden" parking lot
For months now, traffic jams have caused public dissatisfaction, and Ruse municipality introduced two traffic organizational measures to counter this. But these proved insufficient. "This solution to the problem is temporary until the construction of a buffer parking lot in Ruse," said Caretaker Interior Minister Ivan Demerdzhiev, who arrived on a special visit in August.
The idea, which came from the mayor of Ruse Pencho Milkov, was agreed upon with the regional governor Anatoli Stanev (TISP) and was accepted by the municipal council at the end of July. However, the problem is the selected scheme, which is very similar to that of Kapitan Andreevo. The municipality has chosen a private company to build and operate the parking for 30 years for 18 million levs.
On September 8, the newly formed company "Tir Parking Ruse"-99" won the municipality's competition. The other candidate was "Ai bi ti", which is managed by Razmig Chakaryan-Ami, who is connected to Kapitan Andreevo's scheme.
Anton Chepilski, Anina Santova, Kalina Goranova and Monika Varbanova all contributed to this article.