What do we need to know in Bulgaria, Romania and the region about the Danube Bridge repair?

Ruse Regional Governor Dragomir Draganov gives official information on the Bulgarian side’s plans for traffic organisation and the process of repairing the Bulgarian section of the Danube Bridge

Vladimir Mitev

Just days before the start of the repair of the Bulgarian section of the Danube Bridge, false claims by Romanian officials that the bridge would be completely closed for two months appeared in the Romanian media. In this context, Ruse Governor Dragomir Draganov gave an interview to the blog “The Friendship Bridge” and to Radio Romania, in which he gave official and accurate information on the plans for the repair, the organisation of traffic, the administration’s proposals to ease the border crossing at Ruse-Giurgiu and what has already been implemented. He also commented on the level of trust between the Bulgarian and Romanian institutions.

Mr Draganov, what are the reasons for starting this renovation of the Danube Bridge now? What makes it necessary to carry it out in the summer and not in some other season? What kind of organisation do you envisage during the renovation so that crossing the bridge does not cause problems?

First of all, this renovation is not a pretense. It has a reason. A survey has been made of the structure of the Bulgarian section of the Danube Bridge, which is one kilometre and 57 metres long, and it has been found to be severely compromised. There is cracking of the reinforced concrete panels that connect the columns. They are the resistant part of the bridge structure. Waterproofing is to be put on top of these reinforced concrete panels and then an asphalt overlay is laid.

Since 1954, when the bridge was completed, no such major repairs have been made, only the waterproofing and asphalt coating have been replaced. However, these reinforced concrete slabs or panels have not been replaced since the bridge structure was constructed. More than 70 years have now passed. Traffic has increased at least 10-fold since 1954. Once upon a time, the heavy trucks that crossed weighed up to 20 tons. Today they are up to 60 tonnes, which affects the stability of the bridge.

It is therefore necessary to carry out such repairs. Our Romanian partners carried out this repair in 2015. We are now having to carry it out in connection with the replacement of these reinforced concrete panels. This is the reason why this repair is being carried out this year.

The contract that has been concluded with the Road Infrastructure Agency in Sofia – they are the contracting authority for this repair – is for 730 days. This means that the repair will last for two calendar years. If the start of the repairs is moved to after 15 September, when the summer period and the holidays of our neighbours on the other side of the Danube are over, that means that the repairs will continue into the summer of 2026. We want to start now and at the beginning of 2026, in May, to complete these repairs ahead of schedule. We are bearing in mind that the third bridge across the Danube, which will be again between Ruse and Giurgiu, will not be built until then, and road and heavy goods traffic will be even heavier.

So it is the opinion of the Ministry of Regional Development, the Ministry of Transport and the Road Agency that this renovation should start now and that it should be finished in the summer months. Because in the winter, with the strong wind, with the rain and if there is also snow, there is no way that these panels can be replaced. In the winter, if the weather is nice, cosmetic things will be done – for example, related to fences or something else, but not the replacement of the reinforced concrete panels.

Our section of the Danube Bridge is divided into 6 sections, which have 6 panels. Depending on the replacement of these panels and the waterproofing, the work will last approximately between 3.5 and 5 months per section. The traffic will pass in the opposite lane, two-way, in the section where repairs are being carried out. There will be a traffic signal that is aligned exactly on the section being repaired.

At first we did an experiment. We wanted to close about a 400-metre stretch. But we saw a bigger queue build up and now on Monday we will do another experiment. The contractor is proposing that the section to be closed for repairs should be 200 metres, which will ease the load on the Romanian side of the bridge from the entrance and exit to Bulgaria. Around 45 seconds will be a green semaphore on one side and another 120-135 seconds a red one, i.e. no through traffic in that direction. The same will be true for the other side. But those two things we’ll be made final on Monday.

And, as we have been informed by the Ministry of Regional Development and the Road Infrastructure Agency, on the tenth of July the actual reconstruction of the first section will begin, which will be on the Bulgarian side at the exit to Romania on the left side. We have taken all the measures absolutely necessary, including together with the Border Police, including the Customs Agency and the Road Agency, to allow heavy goods vehicles or light goods vehicles to pass unhindered. We have had three meetings previously with the Ministry of Regional Development, with the Road Agency, including a meeting on Romanian territory in Giurgiu with the Prefect of Giurgiu. We have proposed 13 measures, which are being discussed by both the Romanian and the Bulgarian sides, on improving the very organisation of the bridge’s clearance capacity.

These measures have been sent to the Romanian side and to the Bulgarian side to the relevant institutions, which can decide on their implementation. The measures provide for the possibility of online payment of the bridge toll, strengthening the capacity of the counters that serve travellers, as well as that of the Customs Agency and the Border Police, recognition of the results of the weighing of the scales simultaneously on both sides and other things that will improve the organisation itself. Bearing in mind that the throughput in one direction is about 2 000 trucks per 24 hours, about 1 400 to 1 500 trucks are currently passing through. We have the opportunity to improve this throughput by 30% if we operate our institutions at full capacity.

I have received a report from the border police and from the Customs Agency that in a one-month period we have a disruption of between 80 and 120 hours, which are unjustified disruptions, and then the bridge is not actually used. These interruptions are on the Romanian side for technical reasons: either the scales are not working or something else, for example, subjective reasons. This means that if 1 500 trucks a day are crossing, there is an interruption of 4 days, so another 6 000 trucks a month can only cross if these interruptions are not allowed. And if we improve the organisation itself, we still have the possibility of an additional 450 or so trucks a day passing through with perfect organisation.

We have made a proposal for Romanian and Bulgarian drivers of light goods vehicles and cars to make a sort of mini-Schengen area – to cross very quickly. Two days ago we were at the customs – Romanian cars and Bulgarian cars pass in about 25-30 seconds. While other cars from Turkey, Moldova or Ukraine, pass in about a minute and a half. At that time a document check is done on everything else. This means that if we make such corridors for the Romanian tourists who visit Bulgaria, Turkey or Greece, while the Bulgarian tourists go to Romania or other countries, this means that we will ease the Romanian flow itself. Other cars, both those from the Schengen area and those from outside the European Union, should line up in different corridors at the checkpoints. This, too, is a prerequisite for easing the flow of Romanian tourists who have planned a trip to Bulgaria and its neighbours.

These proposals of ours have been admitted by the Romanian side, but they must become reality. The test system for online payment has passed on our side and we can implement it officially this month so that the Danube Bridge toll is paid not at the border itself, but also in the interior of the country. There are also restrictions in relation to the carrying out of the repairs – the oversized loads must be no more than 2.75 metres and carry a load of no more than 40 tonnes so that this section, where the repairs are being carried out, is not compromised by the laying of these concrete panels.

Another possible solution is to launch a ferry complex. For 26 months from 29 April 2022, for reasons beyond our control, the Romanian side has delayed the launch of the Mocanașu crossing. On 24 June 2024, a decision was issued by the Government of Romania that this border crossing has now been legalised. It has not been operational since 2008. However, further communications need to be made regarding the operationalisation of the border crossing itself. The only problem, as far as I am aware, is that when such a border checkpoint is opened, it must have the status of a public road infrastructure, and at the moment there is a municipal or private one.

So things in Romania depend on their government, on their agency, so that we can also run this ferry complex where only heavy goods trucks can pass. Up to 250 trucks can pass in 12 hours. If we operate for 24 hours, that means that a minimum of 400 trucks can pass in one direction, which will make it extremely easy for these heavy trucks to pass in one direction or the other.

You mentioned 13 measures that the two countries and their institutions can take. Could you explain more about these measures and which institutions it is up to to implement them?

I have told you some of them. On online payments, on setting up corridors for Bulgarian and Romanian light goods vehicles, on recognising the results of the scales on the Bulgarian and Romanian side so that heavy goods vehicles are not towed at both borders, because that takes time – between 10 and 12 minutes. In addition, I have spoken about the special corridors for Bulgarian and Romanian motorists and vehicle drivers to pass more easily. And when the open-load lorries are checked, it should also be done more quickly, with the closed-load lorries now passing through other counters.

There are a few other things that are organisational. The Romanian tax office has only one truck weighing scale. They have said that they are going to reform the system and merge ANAF with the scales and increase the staffing levels, which will, indeed, facilitate the movement of these vehicles.

We have sent our proposals to the prefect of Giurgiu and to the institutions in Bucharest, who are also aware. It remains for the relevant ministries to take a view on these measures, which will lead to better organisation of the institutions on both sides of the border. Because the facility is operated by both institutions. These actions need to be synchronised. Border police, customs should be able to cooperate. You know, they are working on the same gauche, they are not separate booths, and if things are synchronised, we will have greater throughput of freight traffic or light traffic.

We have also created the possibility that when there are extremely high numbers of commuters on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, cars can go through the fast track. This means that drivers would just show their identity cards and pass through. This will be very well received. We also have the opportunity to run two additional corridors on top of the four corridors that are working. So there will be a total of six corridors, which makes it even easier for light traffic and tourists. We have possibilities. We have reserves. Things are under control.

We have been doing repairs on our section from 10 June to 14 June. We have resurfaced our entire section so that when the repairs are done in one direction or the other, the asphalt pavement will hold up. And in the three days that this resurfacing of the bridge was taking place in our section, the traffic was no different. It was the same – about 1,400 to 1,500 trucks going one way. This was while the traffic was going on in one lane. So this concern of the Romanian authorities that the bridge is going to be closed is not true. The repair work that they carried out in 2015 will be carried out.

These works must also be carried out here. There will probably be inconvenience in this case. But we have to do everything we can for the safety of the bridge structure and to protect the health of drivers and trucks. If these repairs are delayed, there is a possibility that this facility will not function and will be closed entirely. We need to understand that the engineers who have done the survey say that there is an urgent need for this facility to be repaired in a modern way

You mentioned this idea of Bulgarians and Romanians passing quickly through border controls on the Bulgarian side, if I understand correctly…

Not only on the Bulgarian side, but also on the Romanian side.

Is this just an idea or is it already being implemented?

It is being implemented. Even on 24 June 2024, when it was a holiday, we had about 7000 cars coming back into Romania and we let them through the fast track procedure. I got a call from my colleague from Romania, and we immediately set things in motion. We ran six counters and within 45 minutes the queue, which was a kilometre long, melted away. So there are options for Bulgarian and Romanian tourists only. It does not apply to foreigners, for whom, for one reason or another, our institutions have more control functions.

This is how it will work. And it won’t just last a month. It will last a year and a half, up to two. Let us hope that the Hungarian Presidency of the EU will move our accession to land-based Schengen faster. Then things will be resolved even more quickly. We hope that in the coming year we will also fulfill this wish of ours and this ambition of ours – to insist to the European institutions that we enter the Schengen area faster than both countries, both by land. Then I think things will be even better.

How do you assess the level of trust and cooperation skills between the Bulgarian and Romanian sides, not only in Ruse-Giurgiu, but also with the authorities in Bucharest?

I think that things are being resolved diplomatically. We have said our arguments in relation to the facility. Our Romanian colleagues need to understand that this bridge facility is managed by both countries, and each of the institutions is concerned that it should continue to function and that there should be safety for vehicles passing through. The first thing is the health and safety of the people who pass through. That is the most important thing for us.

We get on well with the Romanian side. They are worried that it will be difficult for a large number of holidaymakers to cross during the summer period. But I have also told them that if we postpone this renovation for two or three months, it means that we will enter 2026 at the same peak time, and it is not likely that the Danube Bridge crossing will be on a smaller scale then than it is now in 2024. We want to start it now so that we can catch and in the summer period carry out those repairs that are imperative.

On 10 July at 10 o’clock, the procedure for the repair of our section of the Danube Bridge will be opened. The Deputy Ministers of the Ministry of Regional Development, the Ministry of Transport and the Executive Director of the Road Agency will be present. We have invited the prefecture on the Romanian side and all the institutions involved in the maintenance and crossing of the Danube Bridge to attend. We have also invited the media. The meeting will be open, so that for better information they will have the opportunity to ask their questions.

We will also inspect the Bulgarian ferry section and the Romanian ferry section – what condition they are in and when the ferry itself can start. We invite the media who are interested. They will have the opportunity to ask their questions and get competent answers from the two ministries that will be at the opening of the renovation.

Photo: The Bridge of Friendship (source: YouTube)

Subscribe to Cross-border Talks’ YouTube channel! Follow the project’s Facebook and Twitter page! And here are the podcast’s Telegram channel and its Substack newsletter!

Like our work? Donate to Cross-Border Talks or buy us a coffee!

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content