After years of delays, the controversial Blanka tunnel, a key part of Prague’s inner ring road, has finally been completed. Originally due to open in 2011, the biggest and most expensive project in the history of Prague was repeatedly delayed. On Tuesday, Prague City Hall announced that the Blanka tunnel is set to go into trial operation on December 2.
The Blanka tunnel project was launched back in 2006 by then mayor of Prague Pavel Bém. The building firm Metrostav won the tender for its construction and work got underway a year later. Although it was originally to be completed in 2011, the opening date soon proved to be unrealistic, as did its cost. The tunnel will cost tax payers some 37 billion crowns, 6 billion more than it was originally stated.
The 17 kilometre underground structure is said to be Europe’s longest urban tunnel. The complex consists of three tunnels connecting the district of Střešovice, the area west of Prague Castle, with Trója in the northeast. The tunnel complex, along with Prague’s inner ring road, was designed to relieve the heavy traffic through the historic centre of Prague.
But the project was dogged by controversy from the very beginning. The UNESCO agency expressed concern that the tunnel might harm Prague’s historic centre. Several multi-level road junctions, which are part of the project, are located just a few hundred metres from the protected area of Prague Castle.
Other opponents criticised the project for being pushed through by the road building lobby and argued that huge road schemes such as this one are no longer favoured by large European cities and that it was a legacy of communism.
More recently, the construction was delayed by disputes between the building firm Metrostav and Prague City Hall, which questioned the validity of contracts already signed. Last December, Metrostav halted work on the tunnel, after the City Hall refused to pay some 2.1 billion crowns it owed the company. The dispute was eventually resolved by an arbitration court and work resumed. The first segment of the Blanka tunnel complex, a bridge in the district of Trója, will open to pedestrians this weekend. Cars and trams can start using the bridge from October 6. The Blanka tunnel is now set to undergo extensive testing of technologies and security systems, before it can go into trial operation. However, it can only obtain final building approval after the city’s outer ring road is completed, for which there is as yet no set date.
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