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Croatia plans for an underground future 27 May 2015

Armand van Wijck, TunnelTalk

Day one of the WTC2015 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, involved keynote lectures and speeches focusing on infrastructure in South Eastern Europe. Development of the region will be driven by underground construction.

“Tunnels are inevitable in connecting areas, especially mountainous ones such as ours,” said Nikola Dobroslavik, a representative of the President of Croatia, in his opening speech. The topography of the country’s historic coastal city of Dubrovnik, which abuts the sea on one side and a steep mountain range on the other, prevents the already densely built-up city from expanding above ground. This year alone three million tourists are expected to visit Dubrovnik, a UNESCO Heritage site with a resident population of only 45,000 people. “To preserve the beauty of our city we have no other option than to excavate underground,” said Andro Vlahusic, Mayor of Dubrovnik. “We have no tunnels as of now, but three years ago we put underground infrastructure in our urban development plan.”

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Presenting a Dubrovnik highway tunnel vision

Most importantly, Dubrovnik is planning a 1km road tunnel that would lead from the suburbs to the edge of the old city, a major tourist attraction. The tunnel would mainly serve tourist buses. Currently the very narrow streets of Dubrovnik’s Old Town make it an almost impossible task for large vehicles to navigate, a situation that further adds to the city’s chronic congestion problems, especially during high season. “Furthermore, four underground parking spaces are being developed,” added Davorin Kolić, President of ITA Croatia.

As for the rest of Croatia, the light rail metro system for the capital Zagreb, which is planned as a five line system, is still in its planning phase. The railway corridor that forms part of the trans-European railway network needs to be upgraded. This means excavating many tunnels in the mountain ranges. All of these are future plans, and transportation planning in Croatia is just slowly evolving. “Lots of reports needed to be revised because they were not implemented fully and not supported by infrastructure managers,” said Drazen Antolovic of the Croatian Ministry of Maritime Affairs, Transport and Infrastructure. “And there was always a lack of funds. Currently we are developing a new transport model, which is to be completed by the end of 2016. But we need to rely on EU funding for this to work out.”

According to Kolić, in the next few years several railway tunnels will be reconstructed and work will start on the 1km road tunnel in Dubrovnik. Work needs to be done on the Adriatic highway along the country’s long and winding coastline. “Regarding EU funding, there are many different ways to get it and one in particular is interesting for Croatia,” said Kolić. “It is dedicated to the development of coastal cities and improving the infrastructure to accommodate the development of tourism. Cities like Dubrovnik and Split would be able to apply for these specific funds.”

Ombla hydropower plant

Apart from infrastructure, hydropower plants are also set to play an important role in the future development of Croatia. The project team behind the much-debated Ombla underground hydropower plant project near Dubvronik, has just submitted a third project permission report. The project, for which an impermeable grout curtain needs to be constructed inside a mountain, has been planned for nearly two decades.

Zvonimir Sever, President of the Croatian Chamber of Civil Engineers, said the design of the power plant had not been changed in all these years. He would not comment on the reasons for the delay. “These are mainly political and financial reasons. At least it has nothing to do with technical difficulties or ground conditions. We are ready to construct the Ombla hydropower project as soon as it gets the green light from the authorities,” he said.

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