Corridor Vc motorway, Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Bosnian section of the international Corridor Vc is planned to run for 330 km through Bosnia and Herzegovina. Concerns about environmental impacts and threats to cultural heritage were raised by local people and cultural figures. The public discussions about the project have led to a series of scandals and a deadlock of the motorway’s development.
We closely follow international public finance and bring critical updates from the ground.
Projected cost: EUR 200 million
Project promoter: JP Autoceste
- Mostar South – Tunnel Kvanj (8.6km) | EBRD | EUR 60 million
- Mostar South – Tunnel Kvanj (8.6km) | WBIF | EUR 17.6 million grant: To be decided (as of May 2020)
- Tunnel Kvanj – Buna | EIB | EUR 100 million, signed April 2018 (though its website only says Mostar South – Počitelj)
- Buna – Počitelj (7.2km) | EBRD | amount unknown
- Tunnel Kvanj – Buna | WBIF | EUR 21 million grant, conclusion: positive (as of May 2020)
Time and again, plans for the route of the Mostar-Pocitelj section have faced local opposition: Read more
Serious questions plague the current design of the route and the decision making process behind it: Read more
War returnees stand to be particularly impacted by the latest routing, and have mobilised to protest it: Read More
Planned river crossings threaten rare and endangered species: Read more
High time for the project’s financiers to ensure it actually meets their standards: Read more
The pan-European Corridor Vc is intended to connect the Adriatic port of Ploče in Croatia with Budapest in Hungary, via Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The BiH Section falls mostly within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) entity – where the project promoter is the public company JP Autoceste – with a short section in Republika Srpska.
Since 2007, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) have signed loans totalling EUR 1.7 billion for 12 projects along the BiH section of the Corridor. The European Union has also provided grants amounting to EUR 214 million through the Western Balkans Investment Framework (WBIF).
Environmental and cultural heritage threats
Parts of the route are causing intense debate, particularly in the area south of Mostar. The originally planned route, proposed in 2006-2007 along the Neretva valley, passed through agricultural land and near to the tentative World Heritage site at Blagaj. It met with opposition from local people and in 2011 a new proposal was put forward to move the routing up onto the Podveležje plateau.
In 2015 JP Autoceste decided it didn’t find this route suitable after all and started planning a new one, back in the valley but with a somewhat changed route, sparking a new round of local opposition. As of February 2021, the EBRD is considering financing for this section, while the EIB is financing the neighbouring Kvanj tunnel. The EBRD is also financing a section on the other side of the tunnel towards Počitelj that is already under construction.
Baffling route decision
Why JP Autoceste decided to move the route back into the valley south of Mostar remains a mystery. The Podveležje ridge route avoids inhabited areas and entails no river crossings, while the currently planned valley route runs through villages, fertile agricultural land and tourist facilities and crosses two extremely sensitive rivers, the Buna and Bunica.
No public consultation took place on this part of the route before the relevant changes were made to the project-level spatial plan in 2016, thus breaching FBiH legislation and depriving local people of the chance to have a say in the routing of the motorway.
This meant that in autumn 2020, when the environmental impact assessment was presented, they were largely presented with a fait accompli, rendering the consultation largely meaningless.
The official explanation is that multicriterial analyses showed the current valley route as more favourable than the ridge route on cost grounds. But this raises more questions than answers.
First, what was wrong with the ridge route in the first place which made JP Autoceste decide to incur the wrath of people living in the valley and propose another lowland route?
Second, even the multicriterial analysis admits that from the point of view of spatial-economic and spatial-ecological criteria, the ridge route is more advantageous. Is the cost difference really so significant as to justify jettisoning the ridge route?
War returnees once again face insecurity
Building the motorway in the Neretva valley on the currently planned routing would in particular impact the property and livelihoods of Serb war returnees, who have rebuilt their lives in the south Mostar area in the last two decades. As well as the stress caused to individual households, this has resulted in concerns about divisive and politicised decisions that damage peacebuilding efforts and against the Dayton Peace Agreement.
According to the EBRD’s safeguards policy, ethnic minorities should be treated as vulnerable groups that require additional safeguards and consultations. However, the 2020 environmental and social impact assessment fails to provide either detailed analysis or adequate mitigation measures.
Moreover, affected landowners alleged that JP Autoceste employees have trespassed on their land, setting up markers for the motorway routing without even consulting them. For these and other reasons, local people have filed formal complaints at the EIB’s and EBRD’s accountability mechanisms, as well as organising a petition, holding protests and advocating to national and international decision-makers to change the project.
Critical habitats under threat
The rivers Buna and Bunica are what the EBRD’s environmental and social policy calls ‘critical habitats’, due to the presence of rare and endangered species such as stone crayfish, softmouthed trout and eels. In particular, the part of the Buna where the motorway bridge would cross the river is a key spawning spot for the globally endangered softmouthed trout, Salmo obtusirostris.
The EBRD’s rules state that construction in a critical habitat is not allowed unless a number of criteria have been satisfied. The first condition is that there is no viable alternative. As explained above, this is not the case. The ridge route is viable, and the decision to abandon it has never been properly justified.
The EBRD is trying to bend its own rules by claiming that construction will not take place in a critical habitat as no construction will take place in the riverbed. But anyone who has ever been near a construction site in southeast Europe knows that there is zero chance of this being enforced. Whether it is planned or not, damage to the river bank during construction is inevitable, and noise and vibrations even more so.
One does not need to look far to find an example. Just down the road near Počitelj, a section of the Corridor Vc is under construction. Between August 2019 and January 2020, not only was a temporary bridge built over the Neretva, with all the noise and vibration this brings, but the northern riverbank was damaged, despite not being on the main construction site.
Numerous other deficiencies in the environmental assessment, including a lack of updated baseline data, lack of information on gravel extraction, and inaccessibility of much of the project area to field researchers, together with a reliance on unenforceable mitigation measures, mean that the impacts of the construction have almost certainly been underestimated.
What now for the EBRD and EIB?
Bankwatch has seen no evidence to suggest that there are real barriers to re-routing the road onto the ridge. Therefore, the EBRD and the EIB need to require JP Autoceste to prepare detailed analyses of the ridge road from 2011, including a full and meaningful consultation with affected people both on the overall route alternatives and on the specific impacts of the different options.