Constantine’s Bridge, the largest bridge of the ancient times was built in the 4th century, under the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great. It was also the first bridge in the Romanian-Bulgarian section of the Danube, followed by the Ruse-Giurgiu Bridge more than 1600 years later, in 1954, which was built under the initiative of Joseph Stalin.
Accordingly, when finished in November 2012, the Danube Bridge 2 will be the third bridge ever built in this section of the river in the past 2000 years. The total cost of the construction is estimated to be € 226m from which € 70m is covered by the European Union as a part of its regional policy. The bridge will be 1971 m long, and include road and pedestrian paths to both directions and a railway track connecting the towns of Calafat (Romania) and Vidin (Bulgaria).
The costs of the construction are clear, but how can one estimate the benefits of building such a bridge? According to the European Union, by integrating Bulgaria’s road and railway system into the European transportation network, the Danube Bridge 2 will be an important part of the European Transport Corridor IV, which runs from Dresden to Istanbul connecting Western and Eastern Europe. In terms of economic geography, the most obvious effect of the construction will be the substantial reduction of the transport costs. The two towns are now linked by a ferryboat for which it takes around 20 minutes to cross the Danube. The ferry has no schedule, and it takes off only when all of its six trucks are filled. With the bridge, the same journey will take only one and a half minute.
As it can be seen in the map, there are several smaller towns around Vidin, while the Romanian side is relatively drear. According to the core model of economic geography which assumes two sectors and mobile labour force in one of the sectors, the main beneficiaries of the construction will be the towns of Vidin and Calafat which will be directly connected by the bridge. The model suggests that the reduction of transport costs will induce agglomeration in the town with a production cost advantage. Since wages are considerably lower in Vidin, it will experience the largest growth in size (and therefore, in welfare), while Calafat will have only a modest benefit from the construction.
However, the model cannot account for several other factors which also affect the spatial distribution of economic activity: there might be other factors influencing the workers’ ability to migrate (e.g. differences in language as Bulgarian is a Slavic while Romanian is a Latin language), and the construction will undoubtedly attract investments from other parts of the country or even from other countries. In addition, the sectorial composition of the economy is much more complex in real life than in the model (e.g. industry, transport, agriculture etc.).
Nevertheless, some of the potential effects are predictable. Vidin is a main town in north-western area of Bulgaria with a population around 47 000. The region is borders Romania and the Danube to the north and Serbia and Montenegro to the west and south. During the Yugoslavian wars in the 1990s, the region suffered badly from the trade embargo against Serbia. As a result, in spite of its advantageous geographic and transport location, it is considered to be the most under-developed region in the country. The unemployment rate is twice as high as the country’s average, and young people either emigrate or move to other parts of the country. Because of the high unemployment, hundreds of people commute to Romania from Vidin every day. By inducing agglomeration, the bridge is expected to change this deteriorating trend: the construction already created 1000 jobs, and attracted foreign investments which have increased the real estate prices in the area. In addition, as the city has several famous landmarks, the bridge may attract tourists and create other employment possibilities.
In the Romanian side, the town of Calafat is considerably smaller than Vidin with a population around 16 000. Although they say that the bridge is not as important for them as it is for the Bulgarians (this was actually predicted by the model), the people of Calafat also expect positive long-term economic impacts from the construction mainly through new employment possibilities. The construction is expected to pump an estimated € 57m into the local economies on both sides.
Besides stimulating local economies, the bridge has key importance in strengthening the relationship between Romania and Bulgaria. In the past, in spite of their shared history the two countries were largely separated from each other by politics and language. The construction of the bridge can be considered as an evidence for the countries’ willingness to cooperate with each other. This is essential, given the fact that the countries’ border areas, like Vidin and Calafat have similar development problems that could be overcome only by common solutions.
New Danube bridge to speed up international traffic. (2010, January 16). from Regional Policy-Inforegio
The Romania-Bulgaria Cross Border Cooperation Programme. (2010). from Partnership for Active Cooperation and Encouragement in the Cross-border Region Silistra-Calarasi
Cost of 2nd Bulgarian-Romanian Danube Bridge Up EUR 26 M. (2012, January 27). from novinite.com - Sofia news Agency
Two new bridges to be built over the Danube. (2012, February 11). from Europost - Weekly for politics, business and culture
Brunwasser, M. (2006, June 14). Bridge to a new era for Bulgaria and Romania - Europe - International Herald Tribune. from The New York Times
News on the construction of Danube bridge 2. (n.d.). from Vidin Estates
Sommerbauer, J. (2007, January 2). Danube II: bridging united waters. from cafebabel.com - The European Magazine
VIDIN - Geography and history. (n.d.). from Portrait of the Regions