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Asphalt money in Bulgaria: How an inconvenient investigation was defused

The Road Infrastructure Agency [bnr]

A new investigative report by Valia Ahchieva sheds light on an area widely perceived as being at the centre of massive fraud and corruption: road construction.

Anyone who has raised the issue of the quality of highways and roads in Bulgaria always hits a wall. Questions remain unanswered, although asphalt has swallowed so much European money. And despite the fact that these roads produce so many victims.

However, there was a tragedy on the road, after which a prosecutor succeeded to assign expertise to the responsible state institution. And the prosecutor obtained a report following the roadside tests. There was no problem, according to the laboratory.

Yes but … the sample tests did not correspond to the assigned task.

The task for the lab has been changed. So the report does not reveal the truth about road quality.

Only 5 days after the Svoge crash, in which 20 passengers died in a bus accident, the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office ordered the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works to carry out an inspection throughout the country for the quality of the newly repaired and newly constructed road sections, with the highest concentration of accidents according to the Ministry of Interior.

The versions for the Svoge crash were three: the driver’s fault, a technical failure of the bus and the road surface problem.

The prosecutor attached to file media reports according to which the asphalt on the road section concerned does not meet the relevant standards, which puts in danger the life and health of people in the event of traffic accidents.

The inspection was entrusted to the Road Infrastructure Agency. In turn, this agency assigned laboratory tests to the Institute of Roads and Bridges.

After one month, the Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, Petya Avramova, sent to the prosecution a report from the Institute of Roads and Bridges with the results of the laboratory tests.

Samples were cut off from a wearing asphalt layer of 21 sections of the republican roads with a high concentration of road accidents.

These include, for example, sections of Trakia Motorway near Stara Zagora and near Pazardjik, Hemus Motorway near Yana village, Strouma Motorway between Dupnitsa and Blagoevgrad and others.

Deviations were found in the physical-mechanical parameters and grain-size composition of the mineral part of the asphalt mixture. The conclusion of the report by the Institute of Roads and Bridges is that “this may be due to the fact that the wear strata of the road sections from which the samples were taken have been subjected to meteorological influences over a long period of time.”

Minister Avramova writes to the prosecutor that “as a result of the investigation it is concluded that there is no conclusive evidence that the causes of crash are related to the deteriorated characteristics of the road surface”.

And this was the final result of the quality inspection of the top layer of the asphalt – there were some deviations, but they were not essential and could not cause traffic accidents.

We don’t buy that.

Given that the report of the Institute of Roads and Bridges DOES NOT CORRESPOND TO THE TASK ASSIGNED by the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office, the results of the inspection ARE FLAWED.

Instead of dealing with the essence with regard to the quality of input materials, they are dealing with irrelevant indicators!

So the subject of the test was changed.

And the result of it.

What were they expected to do at the Institute of Roads and Bridges to study the quality of the upper wear layer of the asphalt in these 21 sections of the republican roads?

Above all, they should have measured the thickness of this wear layer. According to the requirements, it should be exactly 4 cm. But nobody has measured the thickness of these 21 samples to determine if the top layer is anywhere 3 cm or 3.5 cm?

Because every millimeter under 4 cm of the wearing upper asphalt layer would save a lot of money for the road construction company. Of course, at the expense of the quality of the road.

Such a vertical measurement of the thicknesses of the top layer and the layer under (binder) it is missing in the laboratory test tables.

Such measurement is in direct relation to the quality of road sections.

But instead, the laboratory measured minimal deviations in physical-mechanical indicators that are not significant.

And in the tables they show the granulometry analysis for each sample.

Granulometry is about the ratio of the individual fractions in 1 ton of asphalt in the top layer of 4 cm. These are basalt, gabbro, sand, limestone. In the laboratory test, they made an extraction of asphalt cuts. That is, they have split up the relevant fractions to see if the mix requirements previously approved by API have been met in each project.

And they compared the results. They detected minimal deviations that cannot really cause crashes.

But the task of the Prosecutor’s Office was to CHECK QUALITY.

The tables presented in the report DO NOT CORRESPOND to the assignment.

In order to check the quality, the Road Infrastructure Agency had to assign a task to the Institute of Roads and Bridges, to study the input material and the quarries from which it was taken.

The question to be answered should be: Does the quality of the individual fractions correspond to the technical specification?

In other words: does the quarry from where the materials are taken corresponds to the technical specification? Has this quarry been approved by the Road Infrastructure Agency for the use of materials for the asphalt wear layer?

In the test report, there is NO WORDS FOR QUARRIES.

Only granulometry was checked – that is, only the size of the pebbles and their ratio.

While they had to check the quality of the pebbles. From which quarry did the project contractor take them from?

As soon as each project is presented to the Road Infrastructure Agency, the contractor indicates from which asphalt base and from which quarry the materials will arrive. And each quarry has a certificate of quality. This is how it is known whether the career material corresponds to the technical specification.

Because if a material of inferior quality is used for road construction, it would increase the contractor’s profit. But at the same time, this would increase the risk of accidents.

 And if, according to its certification, a quarry does not have materials that meet the requirements for the 4 cm wear layer, it is forbidden to take materials for the top asphalt layer from there.

This is what the Institute of Roads and Bridges should have revealed: FROM WHICH QUARRIES the samples taken from 21 locations in Bulgaria come from?

After the tragedy near Svoge in which 20 people lost their life and after acknowledgment of the then Minister of Regional Development and Public Works, Nikolay Nankov, that asphalt coating in the wear layer contains limestone, the Road Infrastructure Agency had to react as an effective supervisory body . AND TO CHECK:

From which quarries did the construction company buy the fractions for the wear layer in this section of the road near Svoge?

Are these careers identified in the project? And are they habilitated to supply material for the wear layer?

In Bulgaria there are several quarries where stone is suitable for wearing layer: “Studena”, “Karnobat”, “Burgas”, “Garvanovo”, “Djebel” near Yambol, Stara Zagora and others.

As an example, the “Balsha” quarry cannot be used for upper asphalt layer. The Balsha stones can be used for the lower layers of the road construction, but not the surface. And that’s why their price is the half of the top fractions.

It is clear that huge profits can be made if someone brings material for a lower layer of the road and puts them on top, on the wear layer.

That is why Construction Supervision and Road Infrastructure Agency is about. To control what is involved in road construction? Are they safe?

Because the truth is buried in the quarries’ stones.

And the lab tests say nothing about that.

And while the Road Infrastructure Agency does not answer the question – from which quarries were actually taken the material for asphalt-wear layer of these 21 samples plots with the highest concentration of traffic accidents, it is as if they have not conducted the quality check ordered by the Supreme Administrative Prosecutor’s Office.

And the truth will remain hidden.

Valia Ahchieva

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