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IRF Expands Operations in South East Europe

Close to 300 delegates, including representatives from key Bulgarian road agencies, took part in the 2nd Road Safety & Innovation Forum on May 15 at the joint invitation of the International Road Federation, EuroRAP and the Bulgarian Branch Association for Road Safety.

“We had designed this event with the idea that countries such as Bulgaria, currently lagging behind in meeting their traffic injury reduction targets could seize technological enablers that may not have been available even five years ago to propel their safety programs” notes IRF President & CEO C. Patrick Sankey. “But the Forum also marks an important new milestone in our regional assistance and cooperation strategy with the Balkan economies”.

After many years spent on the geographic periphery and overlooked by policy-makers and planners, the Western Balkans are now firmly connected to the rest of Europe’s transport system. In recent years, the region has been characterized by a surge in new road projects, straining the capacity of public agencies to render effective decisions that combine short term project delivery goals and long-term network asset management strategies. Nor do road agencies always capture opportunities to combine large scale civil engineering projects with local talent development programs.

“Catching up with the EU in infrastructure levels is hard” notes the International Monetary Fund. Public investments require ample budget resources and strong institutional frameworks governing the selection, execution, and monitoring of projects. “These two conditions are largely missing in the Western Balkans. The difficulty of tapping international capital markets constrains liquidity. Management of public investment is also weak”, a conclusion echoed in a recent IRF White Paper on Highway Project Procurement prepared on the sideline of the European Road Congress in Dubrovnik in October 2018.

March 2019 saw the formal opening of a regional IRF Training Institute hosted by the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Transport & Traffic Studies and the delivery of an inaugural training workshop on road infrastructure asset management described by several participants as “one of the best professional courses they had ever attended”. A second regional training workshop on Black Spot & Network Safety Management is scheduled for delivery in July 2019.

2019 will close with the organization of a new regional connectivity forum in Podgorica, Montenegro. Montenegro is at a turning point in the development of its transport connectivity programs with neighboring economies and export markets. With the planned opening of key sections of the Bar-Boljare Highway in 2019, the country’s political leadership has an important opportunity to reflect on recent achievements and develop a long-term roadmap for sustainable road & multimodal infrastructure investments. Against this backdrop, the Forum jointly organized by the IRF and the Ministry of Transport & Maritime Affairs will pursue the objective of leveraging international best practices to ensure transport investments continue to support regional connectivity & economic development objectives.

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