Valia Ahchieva has found the smoking gun: a report by honest experts who went beyond their narrow assignment and identified the real reasons that led to the road accident that killed 20 people near Svoge. It was not easy find the report, as it was considered dangerous, because of the responsibilities it may entail.
By Valia Ahchieva
[Important notice: Previous Valia Ahchieva’s investigative reports published in this website have been widely picked up by Bulgarian media outlets, but very few of them asked for authorization. Those who wish to re-publish this and other investigative reports should clearly identify the source EUelectionsBulgaria.eu, a website created by Brussels-based journalist Georgi Gotev as a free press project to cover the European elections and the political context in Bulgaria. For contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org]
The severe bus crash near Svoge during heavy rain last August killed 20 people. After the tragedy efforts were made to demonstrate to the public that the authorities were doing their best to establish the causes of the disaster. All kinds of inquiries and analyzes were launched, all kind of opinions of specialists were heard. The Minister of Regional Development and Public Works reported that something was wrong in the surface layer of the asphalt because they had found limestone in it. This raised the question – how was the road near Svoge rehabilitated? How have the millions of levs been spent by the designer and contractor of the site, with the contracting authority – the State Agency for Road Infrastructure? And who has endorsed and put into operation this road section?
Three ministers resigned over the Svoge case.
The Prosecutor’s Office assigned the investigation to the National Investigation Service. They only charged the bus driver. For now.
The Council of Ministers established a new administrative structure for road safety – the State Agency for Road Safety. This is the 12th structure in Bulgaria, which will be responsible for reducing road accidents. According to some commentators, it is completely meaningless, only more taxpayers’ money will be spent, and some people from the Traffic Police under the Interior Ministry will move to new offices.
Seven months after the tragic incident that killed 20 people, all twelve road safety structures are silent.
They are silent about Svoge. No one in the state discloses what have the various experts found having checked the documentation on the road.
One such check is deeply hidden in the Road Infrastructure Agency (API).
And instead of telling the public what 13 experts have identified and what recommendations they have formulated, and whether these recommendations have already been implemented, in order to prevent a new incident happening there or elsewhere, the report seems to be banned for the public.
As if this report did not exist.
But it does. And there is more. These 13 people in the working group have gone beyond the task assigned to them. They have written the truth about the road near Svoge, according to their expert skills. They found facts that they should not have “seen”, according to Order RD-11-848 / 07.09.2018.
Only days after the Svoge crash, with this order, a working group of 13 people – internal and external specialists – was created in the API. They are assigned the task of conducting an inspection of the road safety of this section.
And on 30.11.2018, after almost 3 months of inspection, the working group submitted their report to the API Management Board. The report has established facts and recommendations. They are scandalous enough to cause consequences afterwards. But nothing like that happens. Because the report is hidden.
It says at the outset that the working group has “checked and reported ONLY PROBLEMS RELATED TO THE ROAD SAFETY OF THE PROJECT, AND HAS NOT PERFORMED CHECKS ON THE CONFORMITY OF THE PROJECT IN RELATION TO OTHER CRITERIA OTHER THAN ROAD SAFETY.”
That is, the task that the API puts to the working group is to check only the road signs and the elastic protective fence of the road near Svoge, for example.
But there are pages in the report that show that these 13 specialists have checked more – they have checked the design and construction of the road. They checked what the chiefs had assigned them not to check. Obviously, the professional and moral principles of the working group specialists have motivated them not to literally execute the order of the API control body but to fulfill their obligations to society.
And here’s how they did it.
The report says that “THE DRAINAGE OF THE SECTION IS MISSING. No drainage facilities are provided, and the curve 395 is edged with stone so the drainage does not take water from the roadway. “
What does this mean?
Drainage is related to the slope of water drainage and drainage ditches. We remember the footage immediately in the days after the crash, when somebody was experimenting in front of the television cameras, pouring water on the road to the crash site.
At that time we saw that the water flowed down the road instead of flowing to the side of the gully.
This section is a very sharp curve.
Why did the poured water flow down the road?
Because, according to experts, in this sharp curve, the slope of water drainage in the left and right half of the road are … different! That’s why the water runs down, instead of pouring away, into the ravine.
And in heavy rain, when the road becomes wet and slippery, if the driver has left the axle on the road with only one wheel, then there is a situation in which the two left wheels of the car remain in the left slope and the two right are in the right slope. And the car becomes unstable. And this is a prerequisite for a road accident.
Therefore, for sharp curves, the slope should be one-sided. The project should be 1.5% to 2-3% slope. And then the water will flow to the curve, that is to the gully.
And then the drainage will be effective, and the road safe.
But the working group of 13 specialists has found that the road LACKS DRAINAGE.
Whether the drainage is missing in the project, or it was in the project, but the road builder did not implement it – that is the responsibility of the competent authorities to find out. And to determine who is accountable.
The working group of 13 specialists has established another fact.
“The pedestrian traffic is brought to the traffic road because of the interruption of the sidewalks. There is no sidewalk, which forces pedestrians to walk on the road, worse, in a horizontal curve with reduced visibility.”
There is no pedestrian pavement! And that puts everyone at risk every minute.
Is there pedestrian pavement in the project, of there is, but the construction company did not build them? Another question the control authorities need to investigate. And to establish the responsibility.
What recommendations did the Working Group set up by API formulate in the report?
“To order inspection of the surface characteristics of the road surface for the whole Mezdra-Eliseyna-Svoge-Novi Iskar road. The Institute for Roads and Bridges to conduct tests on the compliance of the characteristics of the materials incorporated in the asphalt pavers with the applicable technical specifications of the whole site. “
That is to say, the state should have long ago checked from which quarry the material for the asphalt surface has arrived and to determine its quality, to establish any discrepancies, and in case of such, to say who is responsible for this.
More recommendations are to be found in the Working Group Report:
“Widen the road. Pay particular attention to drainage as this is a major factor in road integrity and road safety. “
Why does the Task Force recommend widening the road?
The aim of widening the road is to make it less sharp and dangerous.
Did the project not foresee widening the road? If it is not in the project, then this is a mistake in the project. Why was it then approved? And by whom?
But if it is in the project, then the builder did not implement it. And that would be a contractor’s fault. Why then is the road approved? And by whom?
The road near Svoge is not widened and is not drained. And at the top of the road there is a curb that prevents the water from draining. And there is no sidewalk.
This has established a working group of 13 specialists appointed by the API for road safety inspection. They have formulated also recommendations to widen the road. A sidewalk must be built. The watercourses must also be increased. And all this means: a new project, new construction and new money outside the contract.
Why didn’t API publicly disclose the report?
Why it is not publicly communicated whether recommendations are fulfilled at all?
Was it the contractor under the project, Trace Group Hold AD, tasked with this improvement of the road, so that it would become clear that those in power really care about improving road safety in Bulgaria? And with what money and at whose expense?
Or … actually nothing is done?
To the question have new construction papers have been introduced to rebuild this sinister curb of death, Deputy Mayor of Svoge Eng. Valentin Mihaylov answered in a negative way.
Nobody has agreed anything with the municipality to improve the construction of the road. Someone hopes to hide everything. And to evade the responsibility for the death of 20 people.
It will not work.