Croatia inaugurates crucial bridge to Dubrovnik, bypassing Bosnia

Croatia inaugurates crucial bridge to Dubrovnik, bypassing Bosnia

Croatia inaugurates on Tuesday a crucial bridge which will connect, three decades after the proclamation of independence, the south of its coast, including the very touristy medieval city of Dubrovnik, to the rest of the country, bypassing a small strip of the Bosnian coast.

After the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the borders of its federal republics became those of new states. The region of Dubrovnik, “pearl of the Adriatic”, was thus cut off from the rest of Croatia by the Bosnian exit to the sea.

The festivities began in the morning with concerts and a boat race, while dozens of pedestrians took photos of the elegant cable-stayed bridge.

An official ceremony is scheduled for the evening with a speech by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and a video address by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

For the 90,000 inhabitants of this area and for tourists, the opening of the “Peljesac Bridge” means the end of waiting hours at the border, especially in the summer season, to enter Bosnia, then to come out ten kilometers further far.

“It’s a huge thing for the people who live here because they didn’t even feel like they were living in their own country,” said Joso Miletic, 75, who has been traveling for the occasion since his village near the city of Zadar, on the central coast.

The Peljesac bridge in Croatia, July 18, 2022 (AFP – ELVIS BARUKCIC)

“We are finally becoming an integral part of Croatia”, rejoices Mario Radibratovic, shellfish farmer on the Peljesac peninsula, now linked to the coast by this 2.4 kilometer long bridge, one of the largest infrastructure projects since independence. in 1991.

“It’s a huge relief. We have felt like second-class citizens so far,” the 57-year-old told AFP after returning from a boat trip to his oyster and fish farm. mussels, in the bay of Mali Ston, organized for around twenty tourists.

Because when he and his colleagues from the peninsula set out to transport their shells to the north of the country, they armed themselves with patience.

All they have to do now is cross the bridge in a few minutes that connects the town of Brijesta, on the peninsula, to Komarna, opposite. The end of many hassles for the inhabitants of the picturesque peninsula, known for its wines, its pebble beaches and popular with surfers who take advantage of a mistral which forms in the corridor between Peljesac and the island of Korcula.

“It was really exhausting, the wait at the border created a kind of bitterness in the people who live here,” says Sabina Mikulic, owner of a hotel, luxury campsite and vineyard in Orebic , on Peljesac.

– EU-funded, Chinese-built –

The city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, June 6, 2013 (AFP - ELVIS BARUKCIC)
The city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, June 6, 2013 (AFP – ELVIS BARUKCIC)

The opening of the bridge has been a long time coming. For years, Croatia had intended to remedy this absurdity by building a bridge to span the arm of the sea facing the Bosnian town of Neum. Work had been started for the first time in 2007, to cease shortly after for lack of budget.

Four years after joining the European Union in 2013, the country obtained 357 million euros from the block to take over the project, or 85% of the estimated cost of 420 million euros with access roads. The work had been relaunched this time by a Chinese consortium, “China Road and Bridge Corporation”, which delivered its work on schedule.

At one point, the project had angered some Bosnian leaders who feared that the bridge would hinder or even prevent the entry of large tonnage boats into the bay of Neum.

Zagreb had finally agreed to increase the height of the bridge to 55 meters, despite an additional cost.

The bridge will be open in the middle of the tourist season, while Croatia, which in 2019 welcomed nearly 20 million tourists, hopes for a return to pre-pandemic attendance.

“The importance of the bridge is enormous, not only emotionally because of the connection of Croatian territory but also for tourism and for the economy in general,” Croatian Transport Minister Oleg Butkovic said recently.

For Smilja Matic, a retired piano teacher who regularly spends her holidays in Komarna, now with her beach at the foot of the bridge, the book will have a major positive impact for locals and tourists.

“It means a new life for the people on this side and for the people opposite, also for those who arrive by plane in Dubrovnik and who will now be able to come here by road without having to cross the borders”, she says.

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