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Schriftenreihe des Europa Institutes Budapest, Band 28:153–171.


Road Transport of the Southeast European Region

Hungarian Linkages and Effects


When one wishes to obtain an overview of the road transport of a region, a country or a territory, the following questions emerge:

– How big is the territory of the region under survey? How big is its population and where are the country borders?

– What natural conditions and obstacles (rivers, mountains, and seas) are to be considered?

– Where are the territorial foci of industry and agriculture, and how are they served by transport (ports, logistics centres)?

– What is the present structure and condition of the road network, how is it supplied by speedways?

– How big is its supply with vehicles (passenger cars and lorries)?

– How significant is road traffic and tourism, and to what extent is the capacity of roads used?

– Where are the critical elements of the road network?

– What are its linkages with Hungary like?

When studying the Balkan region each of the questions listed above is particularly important. When this paper is being written Montenegro (Crna Gora) is becoming independent. It was formerly part of Yugoslavia and most recently of Serbia and Montenegro. The international recognition of the new state is in progress, and Serbia has already established diplomatic relations with Montenegro. Such a change influences a major part of the above list; it rearranges data, and encourages the reconsideration of the problem. The present writing contains the joint data of Serbia and Montenegro (in the following this would not be mentioned again), and this paper may be regarded as the summary of the situation evolved in a previous period, and a next writing of similar structure may discuss the changed situation in the future.

On Map 1 the countries of the region are presented with their population (given in thousand persons). These are particularly important figures because subsequently specific indicators will often appear and the data given here are used for them (source: Eurostat). The countries were classified into five groups by the number of their inhabitants. The almost 72 million inhabitants of Turkey are uniquely numerous, and in case of its planned Union membership only Germany would be bigger (calculated with the present population statistics), which would also ensure significant influence for that country in an enlarged Union. This is one of the reasons why the member countries of the European Union prescribe a well-considered accession process for Turkey as a precondition of membership. Romania with its almost 22 million inhabitants is the second most populous country of the region. The population of four countries including Hungary is between 5 and 11 million, followed by four countries of 2 to 5 million inhabitants. Finally, the population of Slovenia is under 2 million.

Map 2 shows public roads of the countries of the region maintained by the state. It is interesting to note that some countries (including Hungary) keep a relatively lengthy network under state control, whereas other countries (Romania, Bulgaria, Greece) have relatively little network length in state management. The unambiguous assessment is somewhat disturbed by the fact that there are roads maintained by local governments in these countries, too, the operation and financing of which hardly differ from those under state control.

The length of speedways (Map 3) is somewhat more unambiguous than that of the state public roads. It should be kept in mind, however, that the different countries do not build motorways according to the same ’standard’, and do not interpret the meaning of motorways and motor roads the same way as Hungary does. We have found 2x2 lane roads that were broadened locally by rebuilding the old 2x1 lane road, thus there is no parallel road of mixed traffic, and the slow and animal- drawn vehicles cannot be prohibited from its use, whereas it figures as a motor road on the maps (and in statistics) though the respective traffic sign of the motor road is not put there. Such types of roads are being built for instance, in Romania. Slovenia and Croatia follow different principles. In addition to the praiseworthy motorways they build motor roads that follow a separate track, the sign of motor road is affixed but the track is a 2x1 lane one, and it is not easier or less dangerous to overtake on mountainous roads than in a road of mixed traffic, no hard shoulder is built (and if at all, it is only 1 m wide), but the road junctions are at separate levels. The construction corresponds almost completely to that of the ’semi-motorway’ we built earlier, but the flyovers are not built in full width there, the massive earthwork was not done, therefore if it has to be broadened into a motorway later on, it will mean significant additional cost as well as large-scale disturbance of the traffic.

Map 4 shows the specific density of speedways of the countries under survey. Slovenia and Croatia are prominent with their good supply of speedways; they are followed by Hungary, Greece and Macedonia. The supply of speedways is conspicuously low in Romania and Albania, the plans for the southern and north Transylvanian motorways, if built, would greatly improve the transport situation of Romania. The marine motorway coming from the direction of Croatia and traversing Montenegro would reach Albania and progress further towards Greece. There is no speedway in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It is important to know how big the stock of vehicles is that would like to use the roads. This can be best presented as a specific supply data as it is shown on Map 5. The supply with passenger cars (passenger cars/one thousand inhabitants) is particularly high in Slovenia, though it should be noted that this is true only in comparison to the countries of the region under survey, because in the more developed countries of Europe indicators above 500 cars/thousand inhabitants can be found. The indicators of Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia and Hungary are medium ones; Romania and Turkey have reached a low level of supply. Some countries do not publish their data, some years (or decades?) ago these data were not entirely public in our country either.

The supply with lorries (lorry/thousand passengers) is more important than that of the passenger cars from the angle of the use and deterioration of the roads. The respective figures are given on Map 6. It is surprising that the supply with lorries is relatively low in Slovenia and Croatia, these countries do not perform large international cargo transport. At the same time the high supply of lorries is remarkable in Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey (and to a lesser extent even in Romania). It is known about these countries that they offer significant international road transport services. Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey (and Croatia) are candidate countries of the European Union. When they become members their lorries would appear in far greater numbers on the Hungarian road network. If this takes place without preparations our road network, which is not of a very good quality would be exposed to a further process of deterioration.

Map 7 shows the traffic on the European roads. Its dimension is the average daily traffic per day. The centres of the West European development regions can be clearly seen, but the vicinity of the big cities (Paris, Madrid, Moscow, and even Vienna and Budapest) can also be observed. It may be noted that there is far less traffic in the Balkans than in the West European countries. A definite shift of traffic, however, can be observed towards the east, which is justified by the growing traffic load on the international highways of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia. In fact, the historical steps of expanding the European road network also mean the inclusion of the Central and East European countries into ’Western’ trade, reflected in an adequate road network. The eastern terminal points of the road network in Europe are at the north-western borders of China. Consequently, we have to prepare for rapidly growing cargo traffic at the eastern and southern borders of Hungary in the form of traffic coming from the Balkans and Ukraine, and regarding Hungary only partially as its target country but rather as transit country towards the west and northwest.

Public road tourism is an important component of a country’s road traffic. It should be added that public roads play a leading role in the distribution of the total of tourism by vehicle, in Hungary this is between 90 to 92%. Therefore, when one speaks about tourism it is practically about public road tourism. In order to call a foreigner ’tourist’ he/she has to meet two preconditions simultaneously: he/she has to arrive in the country with tourism as the purpose of his/her visit (and cannot be an employee there), and should spend at least 24 hours of his/her visit in the country. Settlers (not transitory), for instance, and those on excursions are excluded. The latter group does not spend 24 hours in the country of visit; therefore it cannot be regarded as a tourist unit. This is important to know, for two kinds of statistics are usually published. One gives the number of those who cross the borders (border statistics), and the other one is statistics of accommodation (hotel statistics) stating the number of tourists, for the tourists have to use some kind of accommodation during 24 hours and spend money in other ways, too, in the country they visit. Hungary has a very large visitor (border) turnover which is mostly due to its Central European (transit) location, to visits of relatives of Hungarians living beyond the borders of the country (visiting relatives as well as shopping equally qualify as tourism), border crossers commuting to the other country to work in both directions (see: Sopron, Győr–Vámosszabadi, Komárom, Esztergom, Balassagyarmat). The disadvantage of the location, size and little tourist attraction (no sea coast and its architectural heritage are also limited) is that most people just travel through the country, or return to their country of origin after a brief, one-day visit. Therefore tourist traffic is relatively low, and, consequently, foreigners spend little here.

On Map 8 the number of tourists was indicated in the Balkan region. Let us see Hungary first as a basis of comparison. The number of foreigners entering the country is around 35 million each year. This offers a very eminent position in the list of countries; we are at about the 10th– 15th place, only countries of classical tourist attraction (France, Italy, etc.) precede us. Only a small part of these visitors, however, are tourists: about 3 million people (Map 8), which is less than 10%. Romania and Bulgaria have similar tourist potential in the region. The great tourist powers of the region are Croatia, Turkey and Greece.

With Maps 5, 6 and 7 we tried to orient attention to the forecasted process which is manifest in the form of the significant vehicle transport expected from the countries of the Balkan region. This process has already begun. Maps 9 and 10 present the traffic of foreign vehicles in Hungary. The dimension of the size of traffic is the average traffic/day; therefore this traffic can be directly compared to the data of the domestic traffic counts. Map 9 gives the total traffic, whereas Map 10 indicates lorry traffic. It can be clearly seen on Map 9 that only Transdanubia (Lake Balaton) has actual tourist traffic besides Budapest. The traffic flows crossing the country can be seen; they mostly show a northwest-southeast direction. This is even more manifest on the map of lorry traffic. This illustration shows the traces of an almost exclusively transit traffic. Border crossing points of the largest traffic are: Hegyeshalom– Rajka–Vámosszabadi–Sopron, and Ártánd–Gyula–Nagylak–Röszke. These maps present the traffic of 2004, therefore it cannot be sensed as yet that a north-south tourist (cargo) traffic corridor has developed through Hungary which uses primarily the roads Nos. 15–86, using the border crossing points at Rajka (and partly Vámosszabadi)–Rédics.

Part of this traffic goes towards Italy, and another part towards the sea ports in Istria (Trieste, Pula, Rijeka and partly Koper). This is a critical point of the road network of the Balkan region. All of these ports can be well approached by railway and recently also by road. Trieste and Koper can be reached from Slovenia on a speedway, the largest part of the motor road between Pula and Koper (2x1 lane) is completed, and when this article was written the segment between Umag and Koper as well as the one avoiding Pula were missing. The Rijeka–Pula segment was completed with the exception of the segment mentioned above, and the Rijeka–Trieste segment on the Croat side is ready up to the Slovene border.

What is missing from this north-south route is the speedway connection not yet built in Hungary. The M70 motor road was built from Letenye to Tornyiszentmiklós in Hungary, but its continuation on the Slovene side is missing. A single short segment (of about 10 km) was built from Muraszombat towards Maribor. The opening of the segment between Muraszombat and Tornyiszentmiklós is planned for the period after 2010. It would be desirable to bring it to an earlier date in the interest of the undisturbed flow of traffic.

The Balkan region contains several other critical segments of roads. Such an issue is the building of bridges over the Danube between Romania and Bulgaria, the north-south connection in Bulgaria, the Greek-Bulgarian-Turkish connection, the planned Croat-Albanian-Greek motorway; the question of further crossing points at the Bosphorus, and problems awaiting solution could be listed at length.

One has to deal with the question of connections and linkages in Hungary, too. Previously this issue has been touched upon in relation to Maps 11–12. It was mentioned that the M70 motor road was built towards Slovenia. In order to discuss our connections with the other Southeast European countries Map 13 should be viewed.

On Map 13 the speedway road network emerging in 2015 is visible. It is prescribed by a government decree (Govt. Decree No. 2044/2003. [III.14.]), and subsequently it was confirmed by an Act (Act CXXVIII. of 2003). A speedway linkage would be developed in two places towards Croatia. The track leading to the border crossing point is completed at Letenye, but the Mura-bridge is missing on both sides. Its construction has begun. The other linkage point on the Hungarian side is the M6– M56 speedway, and on the Croat side it will be the motor road branching off from the Zagreb–Belgrade speedway at Donji Andrijevci and touching Osijek, the border linkage point of which has been approved by the two parties involved at Kislippó, Ivándárda–Branjin Vrh. The M5 motorway leads towards Serbia, its border linkage has been completed, and its continued route on the Serbian side is also ensured by the speedway along Horgoš, Subotica, Novi Sad and Belgrade. Three speedways are linked in the direction of Romania.

The M43 motorway reaches the border in the region of Nagylak– Csanádpalota, and the south Transylvanian motorway would join it (Map 14). Its planning and the preparations for construction are in progress, though presumably its building will not begin with the completion of segments near the border. No continuation of the M44 motor road leading out to Gyula is planned in Romania. Map 15 was designed by the Romanian road authority of Bihar County for the approval of the border crossing point, which was accepted by both parties involved in the region of Nagykereki. The north Transylvanian motorway would join in here (Map 15). These speedways correspond to the road network of Europe deemed desirable by the European Union which was mentioned earlier under the Helsinki and TINA corridors, and today they are parts of the TEN road network (European roads).