Traffic, Ecomomy and Environment: Conflicts to Resolve in the Development of the Polish Motorway System
JUDGE E, Leeds Business School, UK
The Polish motorway system is in its earliest development stages, yet it is already bedeviled by the sorts of controversies which arose only decades later after the start of motorway programmes in the UK and Western Europe. It could be said that currently
The Polish motorway system is in its earliest development stages, yet it is already bedeviled by the sorts of controversies which arose only decades later after the start of motorway programmes in the UK and Western Europe. It could be said that currently the development of the network faces a crisis. The "do we want them? do we need them? can we afford them? can we do without them?" arguments sound familiar. It is easy to rationalise them by saying that, of course, its a problem now, as a rapid motorisation, motorways and concern with sustainable development are occurring at the same time, and there is a conflict to sort out. And moreover, as they have the benefit of Western experience, it should be easier to resolve the issues.
This is far from the case. In some ways, the problems involved in the development of the Polish motorway system are not so different to the other new East European democracies, but the size of the country and its strategic location in Europe sharpen the edge of the debate somewhat. The speed of change distinguishes what is happening from our own experience: a few years has seen the country shift from low to high motorisation, from good roads to bad, from a stagnant to dynamic economy, from being outside the European Community to being a candidate for entry with a massive harmonisation job to complete. A new motorway system appears to be a key part of the response, coping with the massive traffic growth (and reducing its environmental impact), linking the country with the European motorway network, and providing a boost to the economy. Yet, when a government with very limited resources decides to use the device of a toll motorway system to get banks and investors (mainly foreign) to finance it on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis, the paradoxical situation seems to emerge that there does not seem to be enough traffic to pay for it, and the consortia that have been granted BOT concessions are turning to the government to demand additional funding before construction can even start. The question soon arises as to rational justifications for spending public money on something which the private sector is doubtful about. Meanwhile, many ecologically conscious citizens do not want motorways near them, while those directly affected by the enormous increase in interurban traffic in small towns block roads with sit downs. At the same time, local authorities are realising the role which a motorway can play in their development strategy, and demand that the government designate motorways near them. But if one excludes those few stretches of existing motorway which have been upgraded to Western standards, construction has not yet started on a single section of newly planned motorway. The appointment of a new President of the Motorways Agency in April, 1998 underlined a sense of crisis about the development of the Polish motorway system. Arguments about the need for it on traffic grounds seem to conflict with arguments about its viability on economic or financial grounds. Arguments about its environmental impact conflict with arguments about its potential contribution to national economic development. And arguments that Poland must have the motorway system to be a credible new member of the European Union conflict with arguments about whether Poland is paying for a proposed network which serves more the needs of other countries than Poland itself.
This paper begins in Section 2 by fleshing out the empirical basis of the above points, outlining the main framework of the motorway proposals, and their traffic and environmental aspects. It then focuses in on the economic development issues, and the extent to which these can support calls to bypass normal evaluation criteria. The results of latest research based on British experience will be used to evaluate the validity of development claims. To illustrate some of the issues discussed, the paper will look at the issues surrounding what will probably be the first completed motorway, the Berlin-Moscow A2, and especially the controversy surrounding the development of it around Warsaw. The paper concludes that though as ever there are no easy answers, the likelihood of wiuners and losers from an economic point of view suggests the need for more analysis of the likely economic impact of the motorway in specific regions as most studies have focused on environmental issues.
Association for European Transport