D8 motorway opens after years of delay

More than three decades after the first plans were drawn up, the D8 motorway connecting Prague and Dresden has finally been completed. A ceremony marking the official opening of the last stretch of the motorway took place on Saturday. However, one lane of the motorway still remains closed due to continued concern about the geological stability of the land beneath.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK It was all smiles as President Miloš Zeman, Transport Minister Dan Ťok, Saxony Minister-President Stanislaw Tillich and other top officials cut the ribbon at the opening of the long-awaited final stretch of the D8 motorway connecting Prague with Saxony in Germany. But the project, launched back in 1984, continues to be dogged by controversy even after being officially completed. The use of the final 16-kilometre link between the towns of Lovosice and Řehlovice is still restricted due to unstable land.

Jan Kroupa, the general director of the state roads and motorways authority told Czech Television there was no danger from using the newly-opened D8 motorway:

“If we had even just a shade of doubt we would have never opened the highway. This is why only the right lane on the stretch above Prackovice remains closed. We are of course monitoring the situation in the area but I think no one has to fear using the D8 highway.”

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who did not attend the opening ceremony on Saturday, has remained more cautious:

“If anything happens in the future that would threaten the stability of the highway than we have to take necessary measures, and even close down the highway altogether if it is needed.”

With 17 bridges and two tunnels, the 16-kilomtere stretch of highway is said to be the most complicated traffic construction in the Czech Republic to date. The motorway runs through several nature reserves and there are no petrol stations or rest areas on this part of the road to minimize the impact on nature.

Photo: CTKPhoto: CTK The originally estimated cost was some three billion crowns; the final price tag increased to nearly 15 billion crowns, due to continual technical problems and delays, including a major landslide in 2013 which buried part of the motorway under construction.

The project has been also delayed by protests from environmentalists, who criticised the chosen route through a protected landscape area and nature reserve. Miroslav Patrik is the head of a non-governmental environmental group called Children of The Earth:

“We wanted to protect not only citizens but also Nature in the protected area of České středohoří. This is the only highway running through a nature reserve and as such required an exception from the Ministry of the Environment. In our opinion, this was a mistake and the ministry should have pushed for a tunnel.”

For the people living in the nearby towns and villages, who had to deal with heavy traffic for years, the completion of the D8 motorway is definitely good news. An estimated 70, 000 cars passed under their windows each day and are believed to have claimed seven lives in traffic accidents each year.