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Seafaring nation with big plans for its infrastructure

Croatia – a pearl in the Adriatic

Known for its breathtaking coastal scenery along the Adriatic Sea, Croatia has had close ties to the sea for centuries. It’s no surprise that the legendary world traveler Marco Polo was born in Dalmatia. But the country has also established its position in the present: becoming part of the Schengen area and introducing the euro are just around the corner and numerous infrastructure investments are currently or shortly being implemented. One of these – a bridge project – spans a bay and even bypasses a neighboring country.

Boasting around 1,200 partly uninhabited islands and a coastline of 5,835 km (including islands), Croatia is considered an attractive tourist destination on the Adriatic Sea. With such a location, it isn’t surprising that its people have been known as skillful seafarers and traders since ancient times. Even inland, Croatia offers exciting landscapes and a rich history, considering that a substantial part of the mainland area of about 56,590 km² extends to the east, across the Dinara mountain range to the Pannonian Plain and to the banks of the Danube. The capital Zagreb is close to Slovenia and has a population of around 800,000, representing the economic and culture center and transportation hub of the country with its 4 million inhabitants.

Progressive EU integration

For Croatia and its trading partners, January 1, 2023 is a highly anticipated date – this is when Croatia will join the eurozone and introduce the euro. Starting in September 2022, prices in stores will be marked in the country’s present currency, the kuna, as well as in euros. Croatia was already admitted to the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II in mid-2020 (about seven years after joining the EU). This ensured that the exchange rate to the euro wouldn’t fluctuate too much.

The introduction of the euro is already the third currency transition for Croatians within the last 32 years. Before Croatia declared its independence from former Yugoslavia in 1991, people in Croatia paid with the Yugoslavian dinar; this was followed for a few years by the Croatian dinar, which was replaced by the currently valid kuna.

Even before the switch to the euro, the country will join the Schengen area – a step that is highly significant for the international flow of goods. However, implementing the simplified border traffic conditions in national law is expected to take until the end of 2022.

Facing the sea

The Adriatic Sea has been an important trade and transport route between (Central) Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean for a long time. The Roman areas of Dalmatia were already considered a major transport route with skillful seafarers in ancient times. Of course this continued to be the case throughout the rule of the Byzantines and as part of the Venetian trading empire.

The favorable geographic location benefits Croatia to this day. Cargo ships from Asia can dock at ports in the upper Adriatic five days earlier than at the “more famous” transshipment sites on the North Sea coast of Europe. Because of the extensive coastline, there are numerous ports in Croatia, with the one in Rijeka being by far the most important. Most recently, 300,000 TEU were handled here. A clear record high in Croatia, but unfortunately only in third place behind its direct regional competitors, Trieste (Italy) and Koper (Slovenia). To improve its performance, over 400 million euros will be invested in the creation of a modern intermodal transshipment infrastructure in the coming years, because this has been the weakest point to date. In addition, the wharfs are being redesigned under the name “Zagreb Deep Sea Port” and will have a final length of 680 meters. The ambitious goal: handling containers at a volume of up to one million TEU per year!

Investments in highways and rail

Even if some regions in Croatia still have plenty of room for improvement, the main traffic and transport routes are relatively well-developed and in excellent condition. The road network has a total length of about 28,000 km, while the rail network comprises 2,600 km. When based on the population, Croatia is in 24th place worldwide with 0.65 meters per capita. A look at the roadmap confirms what everyone vacationing in Croatia has already rightly noted: for tourist purposes, the expressways lead directly to the sea or further to the south of the country.

The railroad lines serving the European corridors are also being expanded at an accelerated pace, since many sections of the railroad network currently operate only on the sidelines or are actually out of service. The most important project at the moment is the revitalization or partial expansion of the Rijeka – Zagreb rail line with a total investment of 2.5 billion euros. This investment will also significantly upgrade the port of Rijeka. Most recently, the freight traffic by rail was 15,176,000 tons per year in Croatia.

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A bridge to bypass a neighboring country

Of all the current infrastructure projects, one stands out in particular: The completion of the Pelješac Bridge (over 500 million euros) is part of the planned expansion of the A1 expressway in South Dalmatia towards Dubrovnik (investment sum: 1.2 billion euros).

The Pelješac Bridge is a two-lane bridge in southern Croatia that will open in July 2022, unfortunately not quite in time for the vacation season. The prestigious structure with a length of 2.4 km crosses the bay of Mali Ston at a maximum height of 55 m and provides faster access to the peninsula of the same name. And the bridge has another very special advantage: it will connect the Dubrovnik-Neretva region with the rest of Croatia while bypassing the Neum Corridor. This corridor is a remnant of the civil war in Yugoslavia and the Dayton Peace Agreement and offers Bosnia and Herzegovina a few kilometers of access to the sea. To date, anyone traveling south has to traverse 23 kilometers of Bosnian and Herzegovinian territory at the town of Neum. This involves crossing an external EU border twice, with the accompanying passport and customs checks, which is particularly inconvenient for transit traffic.

Highly significant bay crossing

The completion of the bridge will remedy this “geographical oddity” and facilitate access to the islands in the south of Croatia. This is expected to help revitalize the areas of Pelješac and Neretva and counteract negative demographic trends. Above all, the populations on the islands of Korčula, Lastovo and Mljet as well as that of Dubrovnik anticipate that the construction of the Pelješac Bridge will lead to better connections to other Croatian cities along with the associated economic benefits.

After an unfinished initial project, the bridge construction began on July 30, 2018. Only three years later, the last segment of the roadway girder was lifted into place and installed. The closing of the gap was celebrated with a large fireworks display on the following night. Until the opening in July 2022, the remaining tasks and technically demanding access roads still have to be completed. The bridge will be integrated into the A1 expressway, whose construction from Metković to Osojnik near Dubrovnik will be completed from 2024 to 2029.

It is obvious that Croatia is purposefully moving ahead on all levels...

The construction of Pelješac Bridge

cargo-partner in Croatia

On February 1, 2022, cargo-partner opened a new logistics center in Zagreb, Croatia. The new facility is located near Franjo Tuđman Airport, right next to the A11 highway.

The warehouse includes 12,000 m² of storage space, 13,500 pallet spaces and a 900 m² mezzanine, a cross-dock area and a dedicated area for value-added services such as picking, packing and consolidation. The warehouse is ideally located for the distribution of goods in Croatia and the countries of the surrounding region – regardless of whether they are EU member states or countries outside the European Union.

Modern fire protection, burglar protection and surveillance systems ensure ideal storage conditions for sensitive to very valuable goods. The shelving construction in the logistics center meets the highest European earthquake standards (Eurocode 8).

cargo-partner has been present in Croatia since 1996 and regards the country as one of the most important hubs for its business activities in the CEE and SEE regions. The local branch covers the entire spectrum of transport and logistics services at five locations with more than 90 employees.