STA, 20 December - The construction of a northern expressway connecting the northern Koroška region to Slovenia's main motorway network and Austria's Carinthia is facing new delays, according to the latest timeline presented by the motorway company DARS on Wednesday.
Under the latest plans, an expressway between Velenje and Slovenj Gradec is to be built by 2026, which is a three-year delay compared to a protocol on the construction of the northern part of the Third Development Axis, signed by former Infrastructure Minister Peter Gašperšič last year.
In line with the protocol, work on the Velenje-Slovenj Gradec segment of the northern part of the major infrastructure project, whose goal is to connect to the national motorway network parts of the country without good links to motorways, was to start by the end of next year, but DARS's latest plans delay that by a year.
The segment connecting Slovenj Gradec to the Austrian border at Holmec was to be zoned by June 2020 but has now been delayed by another two years and a half, while the future of the segment connecting Velenje to the motorway remains unclear due to a constitutional review of the project.
"Such delays are unacceptable to us," said Aljaž Verhovnik, a member of a board overseeing the Third Development Axis project. He said that the board had rejected the new timeline.
"Apparently somebody has been misleading the public and the 100,000 people who depend on the project," he said and added that DARS was tasked with coming up with an acceptable timeline by 10 January. Otherwise, he and his initiative could call for civil disobedience.
Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Nina Mauhler said that the ministry had tasked DARS with drafting "a new, more realistic" timeline by mid-January, because "we can hardly accept arguments for a three-year delay".
The delay has also been criticised by Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek, who said that Gašperšič had signed the protocol, which "sadly appears not to have been harmonised with the investor, DARS".
On the other hand, Gašperšič told the STA that the protocol had been harmonised with DARS, which however did not want to sign it, and that he was shocked to hear of the delays. "I believe the deadlines agreed in the protocol were realistic although approximate."
"But I certainly cannot imagine that a three-year delay could occur. It is the task of the ministry to carefully examine what has changed to allow such changes in deadlines," he added.
Similarly, the chair of the Third Development Axis board, Prevalje Mayor Matic Tasič, said that while DARS did not sign the protocol, it was the entity that "prepares proposals for the ministry".
However, DARS pointed out for the STA that it had not signed the protocol and that the deadlines set down in the document were unrealistic.
"Preparations for the construction and the construction itself is far more demanding than it had been imagined by non-experts at first. We have informed the ministry about it, which is why we did not want to sign the protocol," the company said.
It also said that the EUR 800m Šentrupert-Slovenj Gradec segment was treated as a whole. If the Constitutional Court decides on the Šentrupert-Velenje part in the first quarter of next year, the entire segment could be finished in 2026, it added.
In the meantime, activities for the construction of the Velenje-Slovenj Gradec part are under way and DARS said it was trying to follow the timeline from the protocol as much as possible. According to DARS, the 17.5km segment between Velenje and Slovenj Gradec is highly complex and includes the construction of several tunnels and 16 viaducts.