China-funded Montenegro highway to replace ‘road of death’
The new Chinese-funded Montenegro highway has become a huge financial and political football burden, but it also replaces what Montenegris have dubbed the “road of death”. A NATO member and candidate for EU membership, Montenegro borrowed 809 million euros ($ 990 million) from the Chinese Import-Export Bank in 2014 to pay 85% of the first section of the road, which will eventually connect the Adriatic port of Bar and Montenegro’s landlocked neighbor, Serbia.
The loan boosted Montenegro’s debt to 97% of economic output. Last week, Finance Minister Milojko Spajic called it the most expensive highway in the world, although he said the country has the funds to pay down debt. Financial issues aside, once completed the new highway means people will no longer need to use the old narrow road along the Moraca River Gorge which is lined with commemorative plaques, flowers and wreaths for the hundreds of people killed in traffic accidents. Between 1976 and 2016, around 1,200 people died on the section between Podgorica and the Serbian border, according to official data.
“I would gladly pay what they charge for the road toll (for the highway) rather than risking my life along the old road,” said Vukan, 47, a schoolteacher from Podgorica. “Just .. look at the commemorative plaques and that’s enough.” In 2013, 15 people were killed and 31 injured when a passenger bus fell into a river gorge along the same route.
Finance Minister Spajic last week dismissed fears that Montenegro could default on the loan, saying the country has enough funds to finance it. The tender for the two remaining sections of the motorway, which are cheaper and easier to build, would be launched by the end of the year, he said. In March, Montenegro’s Deputy Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic called on the EU to help the country repay the loan. EU officials said the bloc was prepared to offer a combination of grants and loans for development projects, but not repay them.
“We have to be wise and … start using the highway,” said Igor Popovic, 67, from Podgorica.
(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)