Bechtel Manager: Digital Moravian Corridor by early 2024

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The scope of work on the Moravian Corridor that we are performing differs significantly from what was discussed in 2016. This will be 112 kilometers of a digitalized world-class highway, with 46 kilometers of relocated riverbed, in order to protect the surrounding settlements from floods, said Stefano Maio, Bechtel’s development manager, in an interview for New Economy. This will be 112 kilometers of a digitalized world-class highway, with 46 kilometers of relocated riverbed, in order to protect the surrounding settlements from floods, said Stefano Maio, Bechtel’s development manager, in an interview for New Economy.
The American construction company Bechtel has participated in several large projects in joint ventures with Turkey’s ENKA in Southeast Europe. They have built more than 600 kilometers of highways, including the Croatian highway from Bosiljevo to Sveti Rok, the Morina-Pristina and Pristina-Hani Elezit highways, as well as the Resen-Kalimas highway connecting the port of Durres on the Adriatic Sea. with the central part of the Balkan Peninsula. Since 2019, they have been engaged in the construction of the Pojate – Preljina highway in Serbia, known as the Moravian Corridor, which will connect Corridor 10 and Corridor 11. The details of the project and the tender process that attracted public attention are told in an interview by Stefano Maio, Bechtel’s development manager.

The tender for the contractor for the construction of the Moravian Corridor aroused great interest of the Serbian public. In 2016, Minister Zorana Mihajlović stated that the construction of the Pojate – Preljina highway is a project worth 500 million euros, and then the price was raised to 800 million euros. Can you explain why there is so much difference?

The scope of work we perform differs significantly from what was discussed in 2016. This will be 112 kilometers of digitalized world-class highway, with 46 kilometers of relocated riverbed, in order to protect the surrounding settlements from floods. This is a true mega-project that provides a lot of jobs for the local population and stimulates the local economy. Only the week before last, work was done on 53 parallel construction sites (believe me, that’s a lot of simultaneous work). And that is what Bechtel is best at.
We provide solutions that take into account any of the possible problems that may arise in the project. For example, river banks have to be diverted for flood protection and our designers in collaboration with local communities are using material excavated from rivers to build embankments. It is a smart approach that anticipates and eliminates future problems on a project. But Bechtel is also committed to protecting the environment, natural resources and local communities that could be affected by the project. This applies to all our projects around the world as well as the Morava project where we have collaborated with several top specialists to ensure that environmental and social aspects are in line with the strictest regulatory standards. And let’s not forget that these conditions are necessary for securing international financing as well. This is how we preserve the rich natural environment for future generations in Serbia.
The issue of transparency and competitiveness of the tender process in which Bechtel-ENKA were the only bidders was also raised. Can you comment on that?

We are engaged by the Government of Serbia to deliver the Moravian Corridor project according to global standards and with very aggressive deadlines. Bechtel-ENKA’s reputation for carrying out such challenging projects, especially in Southeast Europe, is well known. The government could see our history of completing high quality highways on time and at a competitive price and be sure that the conditions we offered suit them. And the short time from signing the contract to the delivery of the project means that the people and economy of Serbia will benefit from of this significantly improved transport corridor even faster, which is especially important given the effect that the kovida 19 pandemic had on the economy and the need for such projects to help economic recovery.

What are the deadlines for the completion of the Moravian Corridor and will you meet them?
The goal is for the entire highway to be completed by December 2023, and we are closely cooperating with the Corridors of Serbia and the Ministry of Construction in order to overcome the initial delays such as delays caused by kovid 19, so that the highway is ready as planned.

How much is the participation of Serbian companies in this project?
We have more than 1,500 employees, including craftsmen hired by a joint venture, and more than two-thirds are Serbs. So far, we have awarded 2,500 contracts to subcontractors or made orders, and more than three quarters have been awarded to domestic companies, which is worth about 150 million euros. We are proud that most of the workers and subcontractors are from Serbia.
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Construction is experiencing a boom in Serbia in the previous year or two. Do you have a problem finding enough manpower?
I am still amazed at how many cranes I see while driving through Serbia – that is a great indicator of growth. We cooperate with employment agencies, with the Serbian Chamber of Engineers, with the Chamber of Commerce, in order to hire more talents, especially young engineers, and we also work with municipalities in all 48 settlements where the highway passes to reach unemployed and unskilled people.
We recently hired a young engineer who has been working in Germany for the last two years, but because of kovida 19 he decided to return home to be closer to his family and also to be part of the Morava project. Bechtel intends to invest in the local workforce to give people the opportunity to gain new skills on our projects. Thus, we are creating an influx of qualified workers who do not work only for us, but also contribute to the construction of infrastructure in the whole of Serbia, and we hope that they will work with us again on new projects.

What will be the effect of this project on the Serbian economy?
Medium and long-term economic benefits will be significant, with improved trade links and faster and easier transport of goods to the market. This highway will put Serbia in the center of the transport network that connects Austria and Greece via Slovenia, Croatia and Northern Macedonia, as well as Italy and Romania via Montenegro. At the local level, it will halve the road from Čačak to Niš in 90 minutes. And let’s not forget that the highway will be fully equipped with 5G, so that passengers will be able to access traffic, business and tourist information. Also added is the benefit of better digital connections for companies along the route. This highway opens a whole world of new possibilities for Serbia.

Does Bechtel have plans for more projects in Serbia and in which areas?
Our first priority is the Moravian Corridor – we have been chosen as a strategic partner of the Government of Serbia and that carries with it a lot of responsibility given that we want to increase our presence in Serbia. We see three areas for growth and these are the railways, including the Belgrade metro, highways and the sustainable energy sector.
We recently had a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Mining and Energy Zoran Mihajlovic, where we discussed cooperation in renewable energy sources, especially support for global efforts to reach zero emissions by 2050 (Net Zero 2050). We are pleased to see Serbia progress with the green agenda and Bechtel is ready to help in the transition to cleaner energy sources – wind, solar and hydropower, with new technologies such as carbon storage and hydrogen.

Can Bechtel open the door to other US companies to invest or participate in projects in Serbia? What message would you send them?

Serbia is the largest economy in the region and continues to grow very fast. We see many opportunities to support the Serbian people with a smart, efficient and high quality infrastructure. As a company, we have invested time in understanding the country’s infrastructure needs and how we can bring added value. This is my advice to other companies: get to know the country and find out what you can offer people. In the meantime, Bechtel is looking forward to being part of a new chapter in the history of relations between Serbia and the United States.
The project was supported by the US Embassy. The views and opinions expressed in the draft do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Government but only the authors.