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Croatia completes controversial bridge

Croatia completes controversial bridge

However, travellers will have to wait one more year before they can use it

Dubrovnik-Neretva County residents will no longer have to go through border checks if they decide to visit another part of Croatia. That was the resounding message that officials broadcasted after yesterday’s completion of the long-awaited Pelješac Bridge, linking the mainland of the country with its exclave to the south. Almost three years to the day when the construction had started the last segment was placed on 28 July.

The good message, however, was only partially true and mired by the fact that the linking structure will not be available for use for another year. That means that people travelling between the two parts of Croatia will still have to use the road that briefly crosses into Bosnian territory at Neum, which in turn would imply undergoing cumbersome border checks.

Is it a bridge that connects or is it one that divides?

After the Yugoslav Wars, the territorial agreements designed a way to provide Bosnia and Herzegovina with an outlet to the Adriatic Sea via a small strip of land at the town of Neum. That, however, also meant cutting Croatian territory in two.

Luckily for the latter country, it also has the Pelješac Peninsula, which sits in front of Neum. To Croatian authorities, it only seemed logical to build a bridge that will connect the town of Komarna (on the mainland) with the peninsula and thus circumnavigate Bosnian territory and, thus, the consequent hassles of border crossings.

Bosnian officials, however, protested that the construction of such a structure would cut off their unrestricted access to the high seas, even though there is no commercial port in Neum. They, however, argued that in the future such a facility might be developed.

Alternative options, such as an undersea tunnel or an express corridor through Neum had been proposed in the public sphere but considered seriously. It seems that Croatian authorities were set on building the bridge, arguing that it was an internal matter (rather than an international one) and they even had the support of Croat and Serb political representatives from Bosnia.

As a conciliatory measure authorities decided to build the structure in a way that provides 55 metres of clearance so that commercial ships would be able to pass underneath it. The construction is also notable for being one of the few projects financed mostly by European funds (85% of the 420-million-euro price tag) but carried out by the Chinese Road and Bridge Corporation, which offered the best conditions to win the tender.

After 303 years, the far south of Croatia will be connected with the country's core, and we residents of this Croatian county will stop being second-row citizens waiting for a transit passage from one part to another part of the country in the border crossing lines,” declared Mato Frankovic, the mayor of Dubrovnik in a Facebook post that marked the occasion.

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