Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (C) speaks to the media after a signing ceremony of Peljesac Bridge
contract in Dubrovnik, Croatia, on April 23, 2018. (Xinhua/Gao Lei)
Croatian highway operator Hrvatske Ceste (Croatia Roads) and the Chinese consortium led by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) signed a 2.08 billion kuna contract (340 million U.S. dollars) on Monday to construct the first phase of the Peljesac Bridge and access roads.
The project is of long-term strategic importance for the whole country, said Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in his speech, adding it would help Croatia become territorially integrated and was a top priority of his government.
In an interview with Xinhua after the signing ceremony, Plenkovic reiterated that the bidding had gone through a transparent process in accordance with public procurement procedures of Croatia and European Union (EU) standards.
"We have full confidence that with this type of expertise and already completed projects, China Road and Bridge Corporation will deliver within the time frame that is expected. I believe that this project will put a lot of substances in excellent relationship that we already have between China and Croatia, and this is a concrete economic contribution," the prime minister told Xinhua.
The total value of the bridge project is estimated to be about 420 million euros (about 510 million U.S. dollars), of which 357 million euros (about 430 million U.S. dollars) will be covered by EU funds. Plenkovic said the bridge would be "a symbol of the added value of Croatia's EU membership".
His comments were echoed by Oleg Butkovic, Croatian minister of sea, transport and infrastructure, who told Xinhua on Friday during an exclusive interview that "the construction of the Peljesac Bridge is 'the number one' project for Croatia and I am convinced that the Chinese consortium will build the bridge in three years".
The Chinese consortium won the bid for the construction of the first phase of the bridge and its access roads in January, out-bidding the Austrian construction firm Strabag and an Italian-Turkish consortium.
"The international public tender issued by Croatian Roads was extremely transparent, and the best offer was from the Chinese consortium. The terms of the competition were strict and I am convinced that the Chinese consortium will also respect the deadlines and quality," Butkovic said.
Days after the Chinese consortium won the bid in January, competing Austrian firm Strabag and an Italian-Turkish consortium appealed to the State Commission for Control of Public Procurement Procedure, claiming the Chinese offered "dumping prices" and enjoyed "state aids" in the bid. The appeal was rejected in late March by the Croatian authority for lack of evidence.
"The procedure is valid for us after the State Commission for Control of Public Procurement Procedure rejected the appeal of other bidders and we are signing a contract and starting the construction...as a minister and a well-meaning citizen of Croatia I can not stand for stopping the works on this major structure," Butkovic said.
The minister also said that Chinese companies could participate in all the tenders that Croatia would call in the future.
"We are also preparing projects for the road construction and the rail modernization, and everyone, including Chinese companies, can participate in the public tender."
Crossing the Mali Ston Bay over the Adriatic Sea, the Peljesac bridge connects the southernmost Dubrovnik-Neretva County to the rest of the mainland, giving Croatia a continuous land link.
The bridge will be 2.4 km long and 55 meters high with four lanes. It will enable a smooth flow of goods and people, especially at the peak of the tourist season.
The Neum corridor, a strip of the Adriatic Sea coastline which is a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is currently the only land-based communication route between Dubrovnik and the rest of Croatian mainland.
Speaking before the signing of the contract, Chinese Ambassador Hu Zhaoming said the bridge was the largest-ever cooperation project between China and Croatia, and it had opened a new chapter of the China-Croatia relationship.
"Peljesac Bridge is not only the bridge bringing the two parts of Croatian territory together, but also the bridge bringing China and Croatia together," Hu said.