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Polish highways: Europe's deathtrap

Poland's harrowing roads have dire consequences for both drivers and the economy.

The road from Warsaw to Gdansk narrows from four lanes to two about 30 miles north of the Polish capital. Then, clogged with transport trucks and thousands of aggressive cars, it winds through small towns and villages, interrupted by traffic lights and pedestrian crosswalks.

As well as being partly responsible for more than 50,000 deaths over the last decade, Poland's terrible roads have scared away foreign investors and slowed economic growth. No government in the last 20 years has done a good job of building new highways, but the current centrist government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has made some pretty heady predictions about the state of Poland's roads by 2012, the year that Poland co-hosts the European soccer championships.

The government vowed that fans would be able to drive on 1,000 miles of highways (of which more than 600 miles were to be newly built) and 1,500 miles of slightly lower quality express roads (of which 1,250 miles were to be freshly completed).

But now it looks as those promises made two years ago will be well off the mark. This year, no new highways are scheduled to be handed over for drivers to use. By the time the championships start, it looks as though only about a third of the promised express roads will be built, and the highway system, particularly the crucial north-south A1, running from Gdansk on the Baltic Sea to the Czech border, will have large gaps that will be completed as late as 2015.

This summer, Radoslaw Sierpien, the deputy minister of infrastructure, clambered onto a bicycle and rode the 122 miles that will be missing from the A1 highway in 2012. He was making good on his lost bet that the government would be able to meet its construction deadline.

The surprisingly fit minister did manage to cycle the distance in one day — but that remains cold comfort to Polish drivers trapped on dangerous roads for the foreseeable future.