Construction workers in the Czech capital on Monday removed a final cubic metre of earth from the city’s Blanka tunnel – built to streamline traffic through busy parts of the city. The end of tunnelling means that traffic restrictions in several above ground areas will now be lifted. But work on the tunnel itself is far from finished.
Tunnelling at Prague’s Blanka complex is complete, with workers removing the last bit of earth on Monday: once finished it will be the longest municipal tunnel in Europe. The complex – actually three connected tunnels cutting from the north of Prague and going south and west – should help ease traffic above ground and allow speedier access to different parts of the city. But motorists will have to wait more than two years to make use of it. Originally scheduled to open this autumn, the project has since been extended to 2014. František Polák is the spokesman for Metrostav, the company in charge of the project:
“You can compare the removal of the last bit of earth from the tunnel to finishing the frame of a house. That means that while the tunnelling work itself is complete, there’s still a lot left to do before the complex is complete. The road surface itself will now have to be finished, as well as work above ground. After that, comes an especially important facet: introducing needed technology.”
There is no question Blanka has been a massively ambitious project; but it has also suffered from controversy: three times the tunnel collapsed during digging, once creating a hole near a government building, burying a bulldozer driver for hours before he was rescue, and twice creating gaping craters in the city’s Stromovka Park.
Then, earlier this year, there was another shock: a realisation by City Hall under new Mayor Bohuslav Svoboda that the project was 10 billion crowns over-budget. With some facets of the plan since scaled down and more closely-monitored, the project is now expected to cost 36 billion crowns. Since, there have also been assurances the current price-tag is final. Metrostav’s František Polák again:
“If the scope of the current project remains as it is, there will be no change in the cost. The important thing, for example, is that the Trója Bridge is being built according to the proposal was agreed. From where things stand now, I think that the current amount is final.”
The 2014 completion date, by comparison, may be on shakier ground. The city’s Deputy Mayor Karel Březina has admitted that will depend largely on how successfully remaining work is handled, pointing out that the city has tried to add the 2014 deadline in addenda to all existing contracts with suppliers. Then, there are other difficulties: some ecological activists have charged that years ago when the project was first passed, proper attention was not paid to ecological concerns, saying the potential eco-impact of the tunnel – and traffic that will one day use it – was not properly gauged. In the view of the civic association Auto*mat, for example, concerned with potential effects, more unpleasant surprises could surface once Blanka is fully complete.