Bar-Boljare motorway is a future motorway currently under construction, in Montenegro. It is a Montenegrin part of larger inter-countries project Belgrade–Bar motorway.
The motorway is planned to connect the Serbian capital of Belgrade with the Montenegrin capital of Podgorica, and Bar, Montenegro's main seaport, as well as Bari in Italia and Budapest in Hungary via Belgrade. It is an envisioned ferry/motorway corridor linking Bari, Bar, Belgrade, Budapest and Bucharest.
The current main road connecting the capital with the north runs through a canyon (Platije). This route has one of the country’s highest numbers of road fatalities and traffic injuries in Montenegro. Driving during bad weather is a risk as the road is high-maintenance and the landslides are common.
The need for an alternative route through this dangerous terrain is obvious. It is a state-of-the-art highway through some of the roughest terrain in southern Europe. The mountainous terrain means the highway will mostly be made up of tunnels and bridges, making for a thrill of a ride and offering breathtaking views. But is there a need for this very expensive mountain adventure? Is a project of this scale profitable for a nation of 600.000? Is the alibi good enough?
The project is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects ever conceived spanning investment initiatives from East Asia to Europe.
The project is funded by a loan from China’s EXIM Bank with which Montenegro signed a loan deal of around 900 million, and the government should repay the first tranche of $33.7mn in July 2021. The loan has 20-year repayment period. The highway is being built by the Chinese Road and Bridge Corporation, CRBC and is financed by a loan from China’s Eximbank. The first, 41km phase of the project, with 20 bridges and 16 tunnels through rough mountainous terrain, has cost €20m per km.
The construction of the first stretch has put the country in very difficult financial position, increasing its debt to around 90% of GDP and the government has indicated that could revise its plans if further studies confirm the project is not economically viable.
The contract, agreed without an open tender process, freed CRBC and all subcontractors from paying VAT or customs duties. It also stated that if Montenegro could not repay its debt within the specified timeframe Eximbank would have the right to some of its territory.
The country is heading down the same path many African and Asian countries have already taken. A very similar case is of Sri Lanka, whose corrupt government was unable to pay the debt and China now has the right to take a part of its territory, its harbour specifically.
Anti-corruption NGO MANS has many times voiced concerns about the project, claiming it has given room for corruption and lacks transparency. Also, MANS has several times warned that CRBC was not building the motorway stretch with proper materials.
The latest concern was that the construction of the stretch has seriously polluted the Tara river. MANS claims it was devastated and in June 2019 filed a claim against the tourism minister Pavle Radulovic and transport minister Osman Nurkovic due to alleged environmental devastation associated to the Smokovac-Matesevo construction.
MANS claims that CRBC is depositing waste into the riverbed and on the banks of Tara river and, despite warnings, the government has not taken any steps to prevent that.