Albania and Montenegro are planning to jointly build a bridge over the Buna River, which will connect Ulcinj – the southernmost municipality of Montenegro – and the resort of Velipoja in Albania. During the presentation of the initial project in June of last year, the cost for the construction of the work was calculated at 9 million euros. Meanwhile, at the last meeting of the two governments, the value of the project had doubled. Although the visual presentations of the project were the same, none of the governments gave clarifications on the reasons for the increase in the cost of the bridge from 9 million euros to 20 million euros.
On June 8 of last year, at a meeting of the Open Balkans initiative in Ohrid, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama introduced the Prime Minister of Montenegro Dritan Abazovic with the 3D project of the bridge over the Buna River, an idea previously proposed by Abazovic who foresees connecting Velipoja with Ulcinj.
“…a bridge that will be a beautiful and meaningful symbol of our vision to get closer and closer in the spirit of cooperation, integration and regional development.” – wrote Rama after the presentation of the project.
The project-idea about the bridge that will connect Velipoja with Ulcinj was prepared by the Albanian Development Fund, which planned the construction cost of 9 million euros.
“This is the concept-idea of designing the bridge between Velipoja and the Ulcinj area, which is also part of the open Balkans process and explores the possibility of creating synergy between the economic potentials of both countries. The idea of Albania, of the Open Balkans to tear down walls and build bridges, while Albania and Montenegro share the opportunity to go from Mali to Shkodra through the Buna River, to Velipoja, to Ulcinj and along the Adriatic coast.” – said the Director of the Albanian Development Fund, Dritan Agolli, while presenting the project.
The technical project of the bridge, the preparation of the budget, the construction permits had to be completed by February 2023 to then continue with the construction works. August 2024 was set as the deadline for the completion of the work.
Joint meeting of the governments of Albania and Montenegro
On February 27, 2023, the governments of Albania and Montenegro gathered in Podgorica to hold the second joint meeting. In this meeting, Edi Rama and Dritan Abazovic signed the Joint Declaration and the Bilateral Agreement for the construction of the bridge on the Buna River.
“You know that this idea varies, we have even shown some animations, in this context, it is a little more expensive than we thought the first time. The first time is not so spectacular. I think it will cost around 20 million euros and if it is shared, it is not much.” – announced Abazovic during his press conference with the journalists. On the other hand, Rama made sure to emphasize that the bridge would be financed by both governments.
“This project will be paid for by both governments and it is a project which, as the prime minister said, has an extraordinary value because it will finally connect two sides of a border that is actually 300 meters, which is the length of the bridge.” – said Rama.
Meanwhile, none of the two Prime Ministers gave substantial clarifications on the doubling of Buna bridge construction cost.
In order to make comparisons with the initial project, Faktoje sent a request for information to the Media and Information Agency, asking to be provided with the project for the construction of the bridge that will connect Velipoja with Ulcinj. The project that was made available to us turned out to be the same as the 3D visual material that was presented in June of 2022.
The only detail that had changed was the background music of the introductory video.
“The investment in the bridge will be around 20 million euros and will be co-financed by both countries. The bridge will save tourists and local residents travel time, especially during the tourist season. It will also create a new communication window for the coastal area between Ulcinj and Velipoja, bringing an increase in tourism and income in the area.” – confirmed the Media and Information Agency in its official response to Faktoje, adding that the objective of Buna bridge was to improve cross-border connections between Albania and Montenegro.
Tourism requires works, not just projects
The construction of the bridge over Buna and the connection of two large tourist centres will be extremely important for the development of tourism in Albania, the Chairman of the Tourism Association, Zak Topuzi, told Faktoje.
“It is a great help for Albanian tourism, even for those who want to go to Montenegro. And not just simply for Albanian tourism, because it will be a good connecting bridge for Kosova Albanian tourists who come from the diaspora and do tourism in Albania.” – he says, adding that the construction of this bridge should start as soon as possible, for this reason:
“With the removal of visas for Kosovo, we are at risk, because they will have a very interesting path open to go to Greece. And we feel this risk, because the number of tourists who will try to find new markets in Europe is not small. Therefore, the construction of this bridge that creates ease and shortens the distance helps us at a moment like this, so it should be done as soon as possible. It should not just remain a project,” argues the President of the Tourism Association.
The project of the bridge over Buna
“Bridge over Buna”, is a project ready for implementation by the Albanian Development Fund, which will be co-financed by the two governments, shortening the distance between Velipoja and Ulcinj from 73 km to 300 m.
According to the project, the bridge over the Buna River will connect the village of Pulaj in Velipojë and Cveti Nikolić in Montenegro, in the territory of the Municipality of Ulcinj.
The designed bridge is composite with steel beams and reinforced concrete slab, about 300 meters long with a width of 17 linear meters, with two sidewalks and bicycle lanes on both sides of the bridge, two lanes for cars with a width of about 5.25 meters each.
The average height of the bridge in relation to the highest water level will be about 10 meters in order not to interfere with the river flow.
The entire project will cost 20 million euros and the construction will last about 18 months, while there is still no date for the start of work on the ground.