In a monumental stride, Montenegro unveiled last July a groundbreaking highway, spanning 41 kilometers from the vicinity of the capital, Podgorica, toward Serbia. This extraordinary feat traverses some of the most challenging landscapes in the Balkans, featuring an impressive 60 percent of the route comprised of tunnels and bridges. Consequently, it stands as one of the globe’s most costly roadways.
For a nominal toll of $3.75, what was once a perilous and demanding voyage through the infamously treacherous Morača canyon has transformed into a swift glide along freshly laid asphalt. This motorway is now heralded as a pivotal avenue for Montenegro’s future growth.
This initial segment constitutes part of a 160-kilometer motorway project set to link Montenegro’s crucial port of Bar with Serbia, its primary trade partner. Given Montenegro’s limited highway network, expansion is a governmental priority. The impetus for this endeavor stems not only from the benefits already reaped from this inaugural section, funded by the Chinese EXIM Bank and constructed by the Chinese CRBC, but also from its potential to further enhance the region.
Goran Janković, a commander in Podgorica’s Protection and Rescue Service, resides approximately 30 kilometers north of the capital in a village where his family operates a small tourist farm. He expresses his profound satisfaction with the new commute.
“This highway has completely transformed my life and the lives of my family,” he shares with CGTN. “We’ve transitioned from the hustle and bustle of the city to a serene country lifestyle, a decision that has proven more than wise. Last year, we even welcomed our first tourists, drawn to the village solely due to the opening of the highway.”
Previously, Janković navigated treacherous Morača canyon roads, a journey taking over an hour. Now, his commute is a mere 20 minutes on a comfortable and, most importantly, substantially safer route. His professional duties have also become markedly more manageable.
“Up to now, we’ve recorded between 1,500 and 1,700 accidents on the old Morača canyon road,” he notes. “Since the highway’s inception, we’ve had some incidents, but they pale in comparison to the figures from the former road.”
This engineering marvel circumvents the notorious canyon route, commencing at 63 meters above sea level and ascending to 1,000 meters via an array of 20 bridges and 16 tunnels, all constructed by a workforce of 3,000 Chinese and local laborers.
While the highway traverses some of the planet’s most demanding terrains, it also offers awe-inspiring vistas. The arduous construction phase marked only the inception of a project deemed of paramount significance for Montenegro. The government is now contemplating its next course of action, though global financial constraints present formidable challenges for future endeavors.
“It is now clear that, given the state of public finances and the tumultuous financial market, financing this highway through our budget is nearly impossible,” elucidates Montenegro’s Finance Minister, Aleksandar Damjanović. “Therefore, we are open to public-private partnerships and other concession models.”
While the financial burden of completing the remaining segments of the highway may prove formidable for Montenegro, advancing the road network remains immensely popular, particularly for individuals like Janković, who attests that the new motorway has already engendered transformative improvements in lives.