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Poland's long road to better infrastructure

The race is on as the country prepares to co-host the 2012 European soccer championships.

Poland has more than 5,000 traffic deaths a year, a per-driver rate that is more than double the EU average.

Salvation was to come in the form of the 2012 soccer championship, which Poland is hosting together with neighboring Ukraine. In winning their joint bid, both countries had to promise to revamp their airports, construct world-class stadiums, get investors to put up lots of new hotels, and, crucially, build a modern highway infrastructure so that fans can safely travel from game to game.

Initially, the proposal to build 1,800 miles of new roads was seen as ambitious but not completely unrealistic. But over the last two years the pace of new construction has not picked up noticeably. Adrian Furgalski, a transportation expert with TOR, a Warsaw consultancy, now says that at least 300 miles of the government’s program are in danger, and with each month the odds of connecting Warsaw to Germany look more remote.

“It’s looking very unlikely,” he says, adding that a realistic pace of construction in Poland is only about 100 miles of highway a year.

Now there are suggestions that in their desperation to get some roads completed by 2012, the government may loosen standards and allow partially completed highways to carry traffic in time for the championships.

Grabarczyk insists he can get the job done, but Prime Minister Donald Tusk is increasing the pressure on him, aware that he will pay the political price if Poles cannot drive across the country on modern roads in three years time.

“The prime minister is very upset about what is happening in road construction,” Zbigniew Chlebowski, parliamentary leader for the ruling Civic Platform party, told reporters recently.

Not long after he became minister, Grabarczyk vowed that he would quit as minister if he wasn’t able to drive from the German to the Polish capital by highway in 2012. At the current rate of building, that would put his job very much in danger.

If he is forced to face reelection, Grabarczyk could save money in one area — he wouldn’t have to re-shoot his old campaign video, because much of the stretch of future highway between Warsaw and the central Polish city of Lodz is still forest.

Other GlobalPost stories about roads:

 Beiruit's unruly roads

A Polish murder, and bad roads

Cruising the cobblestones

Beware the road pirates