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An entrepreneur has built a one-metre-long stretch of motorway in Romania (bbc.com)
310 points by Happy4000 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 154 comments

He's fed up and so are lots of people rallied behind him, because the problem is that bad. The Romanian road network is deficient and overburdened. Aside from commuters stuck in traffic, there's also lots of trucks. Most roads are undivided and overtaking is allowed. Safety culture among drivers is poor, deaths are high [1]. Sadly, road fatality rates in non-EU countries in the same region are even higher.

The EU is a critical source of funding for major infrastructure projects, especially for newer members who also have access to convergence funds. Road projects are expensive not only because of costs in design, land acquisition, and construction materials, but because they require large amounts of labor over several years. While it's often the same multinational consortia who bid on and win such construction projects, these firms aren't set up to do everything by themselves, and partner with local subcontractors for much of the work. The way work gets subcontracted makes this process vulnerable to corruption and graft. But sometimes it's the big consortia that get themselves into a problematic situation: just read up on Bechtel and Viaduct at Suplacu de Barcău.

EU transport and convergence funds might be a big help, but they do come with a few strings attached: they have to be used for projects that can be justified though a regional or EU-wide lens. On top of the slow pace of progress on the matter, Moldavia has an unfortunate geographic situation that puts it far away from the most important transit corridors -- the TEN-T corridors -- that EU desires to prioritize. In Romania's case, this means that connections towards Hungary and Bulgaria have so far made more progress than connections towards Ukraine and Moldova.

[1] https://www.euronews.com/2018/12/07/which-countries-in-europ...

> Road projects are expensive not only because of costs in design, land acquisition, and construction materials, but because they require large amounts of labor over several years.

And most of all, corruption. I was talking to someone involved in a construction project (from donated / borrowed EU funds). EU eventually had to send someone to supervise because workers would sneak in it back at night and steal materials. Some were very creative as they might steal cement but replace it with something cheaper.

Basically it is really an uphill battle. Just handing over a bunch of money to countries with a lot of corruption, doesn't work at all

This was a problem with the "Big Dig" project in Boston as well. A truck would drive in with cement, get checked in, then drive right out again, either to someone else's project or in order to return and be checked in again.

It's not like everyone all the way to the top didn't know it was happening. The entire project was a feeding trough for everyone who worked in construction and knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy.

I'm not sure if the corruption has gotten better since the project or just more subtle now that it's no longer all concentrated on several tunnels under Boston. Probably the latter considering that the various departments of state government do not seem to have improved much.

This is Massachusetts. Corruption is deeply baked in. I always laugh when I hear people in California talk about "corruption". The scams out here are kindergarten level compared to the east coast.

> Just handing over a bunch of money to countries with a lot of corruption, doesn't work at all

This is hardly a new problem. Literally any first world aid programme has this exact issue, whether it be USAID, AUSAID, DFID. Maybe there's just reluctance to treat EU partners the same way they treat South American and South East Asian partners?

It doesn't get much better in countries with lower corruption. The difference is that in less corrupt countries after the stealing is done the project delivers something close to expectations. In more corrupt countries after the stealing is done there's not much left for delivering anything.

> Maybe there's just reluctance to treat EU partners the same way they treat South American and South East Asian partners?

I think that was the case. It was embarrassing for the local officials to have to admit to the corruption. They know it is there and they are usually the ones involved in it, it's just that brining it to light and making it obvious is "embarrassing".

Moldova was an eye-opener (in 2012) - crossed the border from Romania at Giurgiulești, and almost immediately found myself driving down a cobbled road with gas street lights, and horse-carts. They make Romania look extremely wealthy.

It’s understandable that the EU is prioritising corridor connections between member states and wealthy trading partners. I am sure Moldova will not be forgotten, but as long as they still have the last vestige of the USSR within their borders (Transnistria), it’ll be hard to extend them membership or the benefits of new infrastructure. Furthermore, extending east from Moldova into Ukraine is also challenging, as there is an awkward area of disputed territory around the border with frequent checkpoints, diversions, and razor wire fences. Oh, actually, that was seemingly resolved after my visit - but Transnistria remains.

Unless is a separate topic, I think there's a confusion here. When Moldavia is mentioned, they mean the historical region Moldavia, part of the Romania. We normally refer to that Moldova (that the parent is talking about) either as "Republic of Moldova", or Basarabia. Historically, there was one big Moldova, currently only about half of it is united with Romania.

Wow, I'd never heard of Transnistria. Fascinating.

Transnistria: A land in limbo: CNN: 3m 22s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAReDKkT9TA

Transnistrian Independence Day 2017: A travel blogger who doesn't over-do it with commentary: 3m 9s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q28ZONQIHK0

It has its own "borders, police, military and currency"!: Another travel blogger, well narrated and short: 8m 15s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m-9Q5CkEvE

I have a friend who visited it and came back with one of the funniest post-Cold War stories I know. It's representative enough of this stuff that I'm going to recount it, even though most of its value resides simply in being funny.

So my friend is a very nice and friendly guy, who travels all over the world. He speaks Romanian well, but not too much Russian. The border checkpoint, naturally, was manned only by a few friendly folks who spoke nothing but Russian.

He shows them his papers, and they manage to understand each other only to the extent that he explains he wants to visit Tiraspol, and that he's a tourist. All of this mostly in sign language.

So this guy apologizes, tells my friend to wait, and goes off through a door in the back. Almost an hour later, he returns with someone who speaks a little Romanian. My friends explains the whole I wanna visit Tiraspol, I'm a tourist thing all over again. More discussion and paper checking ensues.

Another hour later, the two guys leave again, and return with a third soldier. This time, someone who speaks excellent Romanian. The whole explanation gets repeated. They finally give him the visa, wish him good luck and safe journey -- and one of guys pats him on his shoulder and apologizes.

Sorry, man, he says, you look like a nice guy and I'm sure you really are a tourist. But you have to understand, when someone shows up at the border and claims they're a tourist, we usually find out he's definitely not a tourist.

Edit: every other event of his trip was equally funny, except it involved no public authorities :). From what I've heard, Tiraspol isn't too bad a city -- but do remember this is basically still a Soviet state. I'm sure it's very bad if you piss of the wrong person.

Yeah, that was my experience going in too - took about six hours at the border to get two cars through - and if it hadn’t been for my wife who speaks fluent Russian, it would’ve been no dice.

Tiraspol feels like many post-soviet cities, and reminded me of Volgograd - the only real difference is the ubiquitous and contemporary soviet imagery.

You reasly need to bring presents. Otherwise you could wait hours.

Interestingly the same descriptions of Moldova today I experienced when I visited Romania in the late 90ies.

Oh, we did - had a box full of pot noodles, and various Union Jack branded tat - you’d be amazed at how far a touristy biro and tiny tin of biscuits will get you.

On the other hand, it sucks when you’ve spent six hours buttering up an entire border station, and then the shift changes, as happened when trying to get into Uzbekistan just after a bombing in Tashkent. Ended up having to sleep in a brothel in a Kazakh border town, as the border was truly closed, and after 30 hours of wakefulness we were ready to drop - and the nearest hotel was in Shymkent.

Travel is great.

Yeah, it's an odd old place - it really is still a Soviet state - with secret police to match. We had a shadow in Tiraspol, shook them because we could, as taking them on a wild goose chase is almost sport, and... then found it rather hard to get out of the country, as a result - a sizeable bribe had to change hands.

Still, it's worth visiting, for a day or two, once.

I’ll bite. There’s more to this story. Can you share it?

There's a lot more to Transnistria. Russia wants it as a strategic point of access to Europe. There are roads purposely build for quick access with tanks (big, heavy, concrete roads, reinforced with rebar - your car usually makes a clunking sound as if you're on a train). So they support the region with preferential natural gas prices (sometimes the bill gets completely tagged to Republic of Moldova). At the time when URSS collapsed, and the split happened - most of the heavy industry was on the Transnistrean side (including weapons factories), so it was big loss for Republic of Moldova. The Army 14 of the URSS never left Transnistria, and Russia still refused to call them back. [ https://ro.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicarea_Armatei_a_14-a_%C3%... ]

It's a semi-lawless land, used sometimes as a hiding spot for criminals, assassins, etc. Gun trafficking is at home there. When on bike, I managed once to pass the border without being checked (and I didn't notice I didn't have my papers with me, I almost got stuck in there) - you're basically at the whims of the border patrols.

There are a few villages that belong administratively to Republic of Moldova (I visited Coșnița [coshnitza] with a friend, that is one such village) - this state of affair came with great cost of lives, and people there still remember the price they paid. Tensions sometimes get high - in 2012 a drunk guy was shot and killed by the border patrol, as he was traversing the bridge - people were literally picking up forks and scythes to avenge him [ http://www.ziare.com/europa/moldova/moldovean-impuscat-de-ru...]

People are friendly, alcohol is good: https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/53j9n3/i-went-to-a-c...

And a 1000 left their lives that this small strip of land can exist. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transnistria_War

Yet another land grab of Russian Federation.

"Grab" only in the sense of "not leaving" when it would have been appropriate to do so.

"Grab" in sense "use Russian army to kill natives to grab their land."

It's a funny place: there's no Moldovan entry/exit border check, since they don't recognize it. Just a Transnistrian checkpoint.

Pff. Transnistria. I have been there. I liked it.

There are many disputed areas in the Caucasus, I am aware of this. But just recently I heard that Armenia holds an area inside Azeribaijan:



PS: Armenia and Yerevan are very interesting!

Moldova, the Romanian region (not the Republic), isn't poor, or at least not all of it.

We've got Iași there, one of our biggest cities and an important economic center, home to thriving software companies actually, because we've got an old and reputable computer science university there. Next to Iași's district is Suceava, another important district.

EU may not be interested in this region, however crippling this region due to a lack of infrastructure projects is going to cripple Romania.

Of course, the EU isn't to blame for us not being able to build one freaking highway that connects Bucharest and Iași, just saying that it's very shortsighted to dismiss infrastructure projects based on proximity with the former USSR.

Ah, I hadn’t realised OP was talking about the region of Romania - and yes, it’s heavily industrialised, with a single lane in each direction road as the main corridor. We saw a truck barrel off it into a field, when it was trying to overtake another truck.

Agreed that there’s no good reason not to.

Flying into Bacău next time - at least connections by plane are getting easier if they're not going to sort the roads (as much as they need to be sorted...).

The EU is working on extending the TEN-T road and rail network to Moldova and Ukraine as part of its Eastern Partnerships initiative [1], and they'll connect with existing and new corridors in EU member states. This will benefit Romania's Moldavia region, where there were no TEN-T corridors in the previous update in 2013, but is the region that borders both the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine.

Suceava, where this 1-meter motorway was built, will likely find itself on a corridor between Bucharest and Lviv (UA) and on another from Cluj-Napoca to Iași and Chișinău (MD) and Odessa (UA). This will unlock EU funding bring upgraded roadways and railways to this region.

[1] https://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/international/european...

This is what it was like crossing into East Germany back when there was a wall still in place. Really a shock!

You can witness this firsthand when driving through Slovenia and Croatia. They have a highway network that surpasses North America in quality, which is above and beyond what these countries could afford on their own.

EU regional and convergence funds really helped in the case of Ireland. Yes, there are claims that the money was misspent at times, and Dublin benefited the most (as ever), but a whole bunch of motorways were built from Dublin to the main towns in the country: Belfast, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Waterford, plus a Dublin orbital.

Problem is, Ireland converged and the money dried up! Now we got to fund major infrastructure projects ourselves and we haven't really done that since the Victorian era when we were part of the British empire! (I kid you not.)

There was this joke back in the day, what's the easiest way to make loads of money? Lie down and pretend you're a road. Dumb joke but it wasn't wrong, billions were spent.

> While it's often the same multinational consortia who bid on and win

Maybe identifying why the same companies keep getting these contracts and under-delivering and/or merely uses subcontractors. Then attempt to fix that system as a first step before throwing more money at the problem?

Possibly by introducing more competition by making the bidding process easier, hiring multiple companies by breaking down the projects into smaller pieces, having strings tied to contracts based on performance, bonuses and other financial rewards to incentivize reaching goals under budget, include funding for an oversight team to monitor paper trails and check who gets paid + their connections to government, demand public transparency reports, etc.

There aren't a huge number of companies that actually build highways, and generally in order to bid you need to meet certain criteria, the problem is the "quality" part of the criteria isn't very strictly monitored.

Projects are already broken down into smaller pieces and there are penalties if you don't meet deadlines and/or some quality aspects.

There's definitely a lot to improve but in a country where you find corruption at every level it's very difficult to improve upon the situation, since many politicians have a direct interest in keeping things the way they are, as they get to pocket some cash either via bribes or sending some work to their friends' companies when work needs to be subcontracted and getting a slice of that pie later. Some of the politicians that got busted ended up revealing systems where you would pay, as standard, 10% or more of the contract's value if your company got the job, so we really need to focus on solving this corruption thing and then we can work on the quality aspect as well.

Look at this, for the non Romanians, Romania is the fish looking country in the SE quadrant of the map: https://i.redd.it/5wyzzv7kbfb01.jpg

Some years ago, before I left, using the Transilvania Highway to get anywhere, it took longer to get to the highway than it took to drive the entire length of the highway.

Before moving to Europe in 2005, my impression of former-communist countries was that they were all poor/backwards: this was the only context you would have ever hear about them growing up in Israel in the late 80s/90s.

Furthermore the majority of my extended family left the Soviet Union in the 90s but my grandparents came over long before that (fraternal in the 1930s and maternal in the 40s right after WW2). Neither the old nor new arrivals ever talked about their former homelands in a positive way.

To my surprise many former communist countries/cities neighbouring Austria & Germany (I lived in the former for 8 years and in the latter for 5) actually seemed more or less the same as their western counterparts, or least the parts of them that I visited (Prague, Brno, Cracow, to a lesser extent Budapest, Ljubljana & Bratislava).

I therefor assumed the supposed backwardness was mostly just propaganda. But reading the above makes me think that the closer approximation to the truth is that even European (i.e. not central-asian former soviet republics) former-communist countries vary a lot & can't be that simply pigeon-holed.

Some countries in Eastern Europe are relative success stories. Slovenia, Croatia, Poland to name some.

Others are sliding into back into dictatorship and economic failure.

Yep. I think it seems highly correlated to geography: the closest they are to "old EU" states in central/Western Europe the more successful they seem to be. See Slovenia & Czech Rep vs Bulgaria.

This seems less like “shame” and more like “create a symbol of a public policy desire around which people can gather and signal to politicians in the hopes that the politicians will see construction as a action to get votes.”

They get the votes anyway. The worst ones. People who vote for them don't care much about highways, they care about their pensions and public sector salaries not being cut. Otherwise you're right. I tend to view the one metre of highway as unintended contemporary art.

> I tend to view the one metre of highway as unintended contemporary art.

Can you elaborate? Sometimes I distract myself so much from my country politics (Romania) that I even (guilty admit) I forget I live there.

The autor intended a protest but he did more than just that in reality. His work would easily qualify as contemporary art if announced in a "proper" context: open air art exhibit with wine, pastry, a sophisticatedly worded brochure and invited art critics. I'm not saying he should have done that, but it is art, regardless. This stunt hints a bit at the Russian Voina performance art group, but they're even more radical and labelled as hooligans by the state media.


Add to that the country wide 15 minute strike that followed. That one was huge. Cars stoped dead in the street in major cities, big companies stopped work. Wow. Just think: a protest art event with hundreds of thousands people participating.

According to Wikipedia Romania has:

22,247 km (13,824 mi) of railroad tracks

And 807 km of motorways

In contrast the UK (similarly sized, within 2% of area) has 16000 km of railway and

3688 km of highway


You simply can't compare a mile of Romanian railroad tracks with a mile of UK railroad track. I've been on trains many times on Romania and the tracks are so bad the speed limit is somewhere between 5 and 30 mph on large stretches of track, only right on the outskirts of big cities is it a bit better.

So on par with the UK? :)

I am joking but my experiences with UK Rail made Polish railways look good.

I commute everyday to high school with trains (because it's free) but they are same speed as 50 years ago.

Some of them (I would wager a good chunk) actually go slower than 50 years ago.

More relevant stats are in the tables on this page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_rail_usag...

While the UK has ~1700 million passengers per year traveling by rail, Romania has 61 million.

Thanks! Super interesting.

I don’t live in the EU, but how does public infrastructure funding work? Are there no funds to invest in infrastructure?

It seems like trading partners would benefit a lot from a more connected Romania.

It's a combination of incompetence as well as corruption on behalf of the authorities in Romania. The EU keeps a close eye on what their money is being spent on, so lining your pocket with highway money given to you by the EU is a bit of a no-no.

What people seem to remember is who cut the ribbon, so it's a bit of a risk for a party that has a 4 year mandate to build something and not finish it during their term as nobody will remember that they started a project.

For the last two or so years the political alliance in charge of things has been mostly focusing on making the laws more lax as most of them have legal problems, instead of focusing on the peoples' problems. We get what we deserve, since you never really do see a smart people ruled by idiots.

They aren’t idiots, they are gangsters with a suit. It happens in every country.


Please keep political and national flamebait off HN.


Investing in Romanian infra is primarily something that Romania is responsible for itself, but there is some funding from the EU level. One can browse projects here: https://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/atlas/romania/


Nationalistic flamewar is not allowed on Hacker News. Please don't do this again.


Edit: we've had to warn you about this before. Continuing will eventually get your account banned, so please stop.

> To be perfectly honest Romania has as much economic importance to the functioning of the EU as the Arizonian desert does to the US.

This is a gross exaggeration. We are a country of around 20 million people and we export a diverse array of finished goods, not to mention setting up shop in Romania if you are a multinational company is very useful as the standard of living is lower and you can pay less than you would pay a German, for example.

> What the Romanian government has done with that money is frankly not something anyone really wants to investigate.

Actually it is investigated, nobody's really turning a blind eye to these things. The EU has an anti-fraud office specifically for this: https://ec.europa.eu/anti-fraud/home_en

Also, the European Public Proscutor's office will be set up in the very near future to specifically prosecute fraud concerning EU funds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_Public_Prosecutor

On the military side, we host part of the NATO missile defense system.


Romania has a diverse economy, it is not based on mining, you have many multinationals int he big cities because of high education level(high education is free) of the young people. So we have educated programmers, engineers (as an example some car parts are designed here, some car parts are created here for different manufacturers)

It’s geopolitics. “Not become friends with Russia” is what Bucharest has achieved with €bns.

Passengers is a funny static as distance makes a real difference. On top of that there is a 3x difference in population size.

Edit: It’s 80 billion passenger kilometres per year which is a respectable 3+ kilometres per person per day.

I don't think your first sentence is right.

From the link: « The London Underground ("The Tube") had an additional 1.34 billion passengers in 2015-16 »

Data was from here which includes several underground stations. https://orr.gov.uk/statistics/published-stats/station-usage-... But, they are counting only long distance rail.

Anyway, 80 billion passenger kilometres, per year is very good relative to 327.1 billion miles driven.

Does the UK have no highways or equivalent to Edinburgh or Birmingham? Cause Romania has barely connected 2 out of 6 of its bigger cities.

And it definitely does not even have the strategic highways.

Plus you wouldn't want a be stuck in one of our trains going at 60kmph for 6-8 hours, trust me ;)

When comparing to the UK does it take into account that some A roads are pretty good and are almost motorways in sections, they just won’t have a hard shoulder. Comparing “fast roads” might show a bigger difference between UK and Romania.

We have motorways that go to every major city, why on earth wouldn't we?

There are a few major cities that have no motorway anywhere near them. Of course it depends on what you think is a major city, but Aberdeen for example, the third biggest city in Scotland, has no motorway closer than a hundred miles or so.

There are highways between every mainland settlement though, obviously.

As an Aberdonian who hasn’t been back for a while - does the A92 ever get clogged enough to the point that a motorway is required? Or is there some suggestion that linking Aberdeen-Dundee-Edinburgh/Glasgow with motorway would stimulate the economy?

I’m pretty disconnected from this stuff back home so this is an honest question :-)

Aberdonian here. Not sure about the A92, but the A90 between Aberdeen and Dundee does carry enough traffic to warrant a motorway, and really needs to lose the unsafe junctions, tractors and cyclists. The state of the dual carriageway has been atrocious for 10+ years (at times dangerously so).

Also, the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness is still not even dualled, something that has been slated for decades, and will likely come as no surprise to you.

Something that perhaps will come as a surprise is that Aberdeen now has a bypass. The Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) was finally opened recently - although after something like a decade and incredible costs.

Oops I mixed up the A92 and A90. But that's interesting, and I figured Aberdeen-Inverness would likely be mostly single carriageway. I also remember A9 from Inverness to the south being a bit hairy at times

No idea - I've never been there - I just know it doesn't have a motorway anywhere near it.

Ah never mind :)

That was my point, that's the correct answer: "why on Earth wouldn't we?".

Because for Romania, we're asking the same question: "why on Earth don't we?" 30 years after the fall of Communism. That's why people are angry.

That's unbelievable. Romania's GDP per capita PPP is 25k$, same as Greece and turkey. How Is Romania so undeveloped?

Some of the things about railways and road connectivity are even better in poor country like India

Romania's GDP has doubled since 2000.

It used to be very low in the 90's when it fell from numbers comparable to today's, but the old ones were based on fake, communist numbers.

We were very poor until 1945, close to Third World poor, we still had famines until then. Then the communists helped us industrialize a bit, but then refused the Marshall Plan.

Then from 1963 to 1989 we had a Kim/Mao wannabe dictator building heavy industry and paying external debts while people were starving.

We also sold - literally - our German and Jewish communities to their home countries. About 1 million people out of 23 at the time.

So a combo of uneducated populace, Soviet control, communists headhunting elites (again, literally). We're trying to build something now but these things take decades if not centuries.

Wiki "The economy grew between the 1950s and 1970s at one of the fastest rates in the world, changing Romania from a predominantly agricultural country into an industrialized country. Almost 30% of the population moved during this period from rural to urban areas to work in the newly-built factories."


You "Then from 1963 to 1989 we had a Kim/Mao wannabe dictator building heavy industry and paying external debts while people were starving."

Not defending him, but what I found interesting is that it is the only country that comes to my mind that actually paid its debts off without defaulting:

"By 1986, it paid half its debt[7] and it finished paying its whole debt early in 1989, ahead of schedule." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1980s_austerity_policy_in_Roma...

> Wiki "The economy grew between the 1950s and 1970s at one of the fastest rates in the world, changing Romania from a predominantly agricultural country into an industrialized country. Almost 30% of the population moved during this period from rural to urban areas to work in the newly-built factories."

Yup, they did do a few things well. Free primary and secondary school education, giving women access to jobs, increased urbanization, etc.

But you have to keep on thing in mind: this was communist planning and reporting. We even have jokes about it. Stuff like the production being reported as having grown 10x in one year and then people having to bring stuff from home (from last year's harvest) when being asked to hand over this year's production.

Plus, they changed the country from 90% rural and agricultural to 60%. Even in 2000 45% of the population was still working in agriculture. If you compare their results with same-period Western bloc countries, Romanian gains were lower and shorter term ones.

> Not defending him, but what I found interesting is that it is the only country that comes to my mind that actually paid its debts off without defaulting

Well, it was interesting, but it was at the cost of turning us into an autarky. You know who is/strives to be another one? North Korea. Do you know how Ceaușescu got the idea? In North Korea, after a state visit. He wanted to turn Romania into one of the world's poorest states, just so people would shower him with flowers at yearly events...

And regarding our growth numbers ("between the 1950s and 1970s"), guess when Ceaușescu visited North Korea... 1971 ;)

That’s like praising Mussolini for making the trains run on time.

I don't think you understand debt enough to understand how unlikely it is that a country pays off its debt. You can debate if it is good or bad to pay off the debt but it is definitely unusual without a jubilee.

I wasn't even questioning the debt, but the price Romanian people paid and more generally looking at him as some kind of "difficult guy, but fair" when in fact he was a ruthless dictator who lived like a king and though he was a God, just like any dictator or person with too much power.

That's like saying "Say what you will about Hitler, but he built some damn good highways.."

I live in Portugal, trust me, I know a thing or 2 about national debt..

That's like saying "Say what you will about Hitler, but he built some damn good highways.."

So what is the problem with quoting a fact without a judgment?

None, but I got a feeling it was with judgment and trying to sell a point.

If it wasn't then I digress.

Wouldn't it really be second world poor?

Heh. It takes 10-12 hours to get from Cluj to Bucharest by train, and that's less than 500km.

Also, population of UK 67m, Romania 19m

True, but this is not impossible, even with 19m people. It's doable, smaller countries have done it. It's a matter of willpower.

That's not wrong, but romania also has a challenging topography, and a population density in the lower half of the EU.

The Carpathian mountains have been breached almost every time an army came barging in, from the dawn of history. If men marching and carrying 40 kilos of supply could do it while being fired at, the locals should definitely be able to do it in their own backyard in peace time :D

PS: They can barely build highways in Muntenia, which is flat as a pancake. It would be underwater in case the ocean level rises...

> 22,247 km (13,824 mi) of railroad tracks

That can be misleading if these are the late 19th / early 20th century railroad tracks which got dismantled in most of the west (due to road competition) especially as it's unlikely they got upgraded. For instance the french railway system has contracted by half since its height in 1914, Belgium's didn't contract quite that much but not far (according to wikipedia there were 5300km of tracks in 1912, today there are 3600).

Many of the smaller single-track ways linking small villages got progressively abandoned during the 50s and 60s, as local train lines were replaced by buses, cars and trucks (for freight).

I've never seen a train in Romania with more than 4 carriages - there might be some out there, but from a utilisation perspective, it's shocking.

This was built to shame the politicians, not the nation (although we can extrapolate that a nation has the leaders it deserves - the ones it voted for).

And the PSD will continue to not do anything, extend the pensions and bank holidays for public sector workers to get the votes, and then continue to do nothing.

Rode across Romania from Hungary to ride The Transfăgărășan Highway and if I never go back to Romania it'll be too soon. The roads were HIDEOUS. The Transfăgărășan was pretty awesome though.

Judging by the username, I can't imagine you had a great time on the roads as a biker, but don't write the country off on other merits. There's scenery more stunning than Balea Lac all over, and the food is on-point (plus, comparatively cheap).

It was more than worth it, I am happy to say, but we didn't have the greatest experience overall in Romania, but it was very enlightening and interesting, very interesting indeed. I was amazed to see so many people still with a horse and cart, then BMW X6s come past. The difference between rich and poor was vast for an EU country. I came away thinking how hard the EU's job was to reconcile countries as far away as Romania and the UK, both geographically and culturally, and whether it was even possible. I was also told that the region of Romania has been punished by governments for various uprisings and protests. Shamefully, I have not dug down much further into these stories, but I am reminded to now.

Transfăgărășan isn't a highway and nowadays it's only a tourist destination, but yes, we've got terrible roads.

It is pretty stunning, though, and we didn't regret the journey one bit.

I've considered doing something like this in my own city. Northern Virginia counties and cities routinely get listed as some of the richest in the country, often top 5 or top 10. Yet basic municipal services like roads and schools are in shambles. It's ludicrous to think that we can't fund basic infrastructure, in a town with property taxes on personal vehicles. We are a DC bedroom community, with some of the highest property values in the country, the likes of which rival or sometimes even top Silicon Valley. Yet somehow, even with a Democrat majority in our city and state legislatures, we can't fund shit.

America likes to hyper-focus on individual, not collective wealth. The American dream is centered around this idea that every individual has the right to their own castle.

I don't know about the schools, but my impression of NoVA, from spending time there occasionally over the last two decades, is not that it needs more roads...

That's correct. There isn't anywhere to build new roads, anyway. But the roads we do have, especially in town, are very potholed. To the point that it is causing damage to cars.

In the US part of the reason for the Interstate system is for defense purposes. I believe that height of bridges somehow relates to what is needed for missiles to travel underneath.



Interesting stat in the article that Spain has orders of magnitude more motorways than UK or even Germany, while having a lower population. Any insight on why that is the case ?

Huh? Spain definitely does not have orders of magnitude more motorways. It has only slightly more than Germany and France, and a little less than 4X more than the UK. A lot of this is explainable by differences in size; Spain also has over double the land area of the UK.

And keep in mind that "motorway" is specifically referring to what we would call interstate highway spec in the US. There's plenty of high quality roads that don't meet this spec that nevertheless would get you where you need to go quickly. In the US we have state routes and similar, and the UK has their own thing.

The UKs last big road building splurge was in the 90s and hit major resistance from environmentalists etc. So that build out never really finished. Plus geographically the UK is quite concentrated down in the south east. So you don't need vast lengths of motorway to reach the extremities.

I'm less knowledgeable about Spain, but I know they've had a massive building boom in the early 2000s, was it part of that? Plus you have populations on all 4 sides of the Iberian 'square', so you do have to build long roads to connect them all.

Access to EU funds when the EU was still young and everything was cool. They also have private motorways.

A lot of the narrative around it had Spain spending heavily on infrastructure before the 2008 crisis - with large proportion of that on roads. Judging by the quality and modernity of them all when I've been there, I'm tempted to believe it.

My maternal grandfather was very happy to leave Romania, after his family had been there, as near as we can tell, about 600 years, pushed east over the years after coming up from the Mediterranean. In 1923

Here's a song he used to like to sing that sarcastically reminisces about it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3ljx1roqto

Building roads is a never ending battle. Notice how half the comments in here are people complaining about UK roads. I wish some countries would see this and just stop it. Invest in the railways.

The funny thing is the UK had a good rail network but threw it away at the behest of the road lobby. The transport minister at the time (Earnest Marples) owned a road construction company.

Interesting fact about Romania is that the population is rapidly shrinking in size (due to emigration). Lot of people are fed up with the status quo.

I'm Romanian and I haven't left.

This phenomenon is natural for countries relatively poor compared with their neighbors, but if the quality of life improves there's always a plateau. Other European countries that are now considered to be well developed by us, like Ireland, went through the same process.

Also the Romanians that are leaving still have family here and many send money home or have plans for returning later.

Because as a matter of fact, buying a villa in Romania in a nice area is much cheaper and actually achievable, compared with any of the western countries, where it is next to impossible without winning the lottery. Or in other words, Romania is a nice country to retire to, if you have some money.

Also between you and me, if I were to choose between Romania and the US, I'd choose Romania any day of the week, because I actually have a nice life here, whereas in the US you can always end up on the street, with no safety net and your children forever condemned by not being able to attend an Ivy league university.

I think Romania made great progress since the '90s. The problem is this wave of populism that allowed PSD, our ruling party, to start destroying the great progress that we've made. And if nothing changes at the next elections, I think we are doomed.

However the wave of populism isn't unique to Romania. Notice UK's Brexit, notice US's Trump, notice the far right rising in Europe. Our situation is not at all dissimilar to what is happening in Hungary or in Poland.

But it too will pass. All we need is another economic crisis, because populists spend other people's money and at some point whatever source they have will dry out, at which point the government will be taken over by people that are actually competent. I just hope that this happens before it's too late.

My best game theory choice is to get out ASAP and maybe comeback when wealthy?!

Driving or riding in a car in Romania is often a harrowing experience. Many cars don't have seat belts or they are intentionally disabled, especially in the back. This includes taxis. Most people don't wear them. Drivers are often angry as it's generally a very uptight culture in general. The fatality rates reflect this. The culture needs changing. I want Romania to get more roads, but it will likely be at a preventable cost of many lives.

What's the state of art road building tech available now? I know that buildings can be made in a fortnight.

Does similar tech is available for building roads which hopefully last?

In Norway they have reduced the width of several roads to extend with one lane more, this way they get more mileage of highway.

The downside is that they have to reduce the speed, and this is on roads that never have problems with congestion. So there is no reason to extend the roads or reduce the speed.. “You get what you measure.”

something is telling me there is going to be a lot of alleged construction work being carried out in front of his businesses for the next months to come blocking the traffic to his businesses

I spend enough of my life pining for better public transit that it's hard to be sympathetic here. If you have such a "blank slate" and can noepay for better infrastructure, don't fuck it up like the US!

It only a blank slate on the surface. What happens is there's huge corruption and incompetence in the local and central administration which means bad planning, huge cost overruns, refusing to use E.U. funds because those imply higher scrutiny, and bad execution.

Also corrupt officials who have inside information buy land that will be crossed by infrastructure then delay it with lawsuits and astronomical prices for the land that has to be expropriated.

Based on what I have read recently on HN this surely means that Romania is a veritable paradise where automobiles are rarely seen or heard and people happily commute everywhere on foot, bicycle, and mass transit.

I can understand why Romanians would be upset, feeling that they are "behind." Their roadways may feel crowded and unsafe, but if the roadways were improved that would just encourage much more traffic and congestion. And all the other attendant problems, like pollution, public debt burdens, private debt burdens, accidents, sprawl, atomization, and an ugly (sub)urban monoculture.

On the other hand, with enough vision and willpower their lack of roadways could be an opportunity to create a development model that is not so dependent upon car infrastructure. They could devise tax policies, zoning, and regulations that promote walkable communities. They could build out light rail, or Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) for intra-urban travel. And high speed rail for longer distances.

Cars aren't all they are cracked up to be. Don't just copy everyone else. Learn from their mistakes.

If you cant gather political will to build roads, then you can imagine the immense obstacle it would be to bring high speed trains on the table. Consider that there is no country in the world that has good train network without having good road network. Its intertwined.

Solving the collective action problem is a universal issue that is much bigger than the roads issue, and I agree that this is the main issue. But, were it to be solved, that wouldn't necessarily mean going down the same path of every other nation.

Some modern societies, like Denmark, have moved towards a less car-centric model, and it has worked. And just because prior societies that have developed high speed rail have done so after developing cars, that doesn't mean everyone else must do so in that order.

The concept of leapfrog development is that developing nations can save all the expense and trouble of intermediate solutions and skip right to the good solutions.

Cars are a failed god.

To use your example: Denmark is not really a huge country, Romania has 5 times the surface area and ~4 times as many people, not to mention the huge economic difference between the two. It's much easier to focus less on cars and build high speed rail when you are a smaller and richer country.

> Cars are a failed god.

This is a hyperbole, people still want to own cars and have the comfort of leaving home whenever they wish and going directly wherever they want to go instead of exchanging buses and trains as well as waiting in between these in order to get from one place to the other.

Specifically for Romania, though I'm sure this is true in other places as well, public transportation inside cities needs to be nailed down before looking at things like high speed rail systems - companies have an interest in their employees getting to work on time, the state would spend less on healthcare if the cities were less polluted, and people would rather wake up a bit later in the morning.

I believe that in the future we'll still see roads being developed alongside rail and high speed rail or other solutions, regardless of how many people think roads are a failing concept.

Denmark has good roads throughout the country.

Have you ever set foot in Romania?

No. My comments were a general statement regarding the undesirability of car culture, and the uninspirational nature of visions which seek to expand it.

There are many other possible ways to achieve a modern, prosperous society. One of my favorite ideas is Personal Rapid Transit, but there's plenty of other possible options.

Say what you will about Elon Musk's hyperloop idea, but at least it is trying to think outside of that box.

These new ideas may be great in places where essential infrastructure is ok, but in Romania where missing this essential infrastructure. As an example I could tell you my case: I live in Italy, north of, and to go from here to my hometown in Bacau, for holidays, the trip (by car) from Arad (the city on the border) to Bacau takes almost as much as the trip from Italy to Arad. Plus the Romanian side of the trip (on the main routes, "E" roads) passes through a lot of cities and small town with high risks for the locals and the ones in the car. Having a decent motorway would allow to reduce traffic in these towns and reducing car air/sound pollution in these communities. Train routes alternatives don't even exist or are takes too long. Airplane options are very expensive (for a family of 4) considering that in the holiday season prices can become very high.

If they haven't bread, let them eat cake! Try looking at a map of Romania with its thousands of outlying small towns and villages and then tell us about these 'many other possible ways'. Incidentally you've evidently no idea of the subsistence level poverty that exists across this country. Meanwhile every Romanian I meet tells me there are a bunch of self-serving crooks (their words not mine) running the show in Bucharest.

Salut, sunt din Romania si nu sunt un fan al masinilor si a culturi de masini. Nu cred ca saracia este un effect al lipsei de infrastrucutra, mai degraba este un efect provocat de un sistem scolar pe care eu il consider invechit si creat predominant, pentru a crea drone.

From another perspective Romania is on the right track. They haven't over built roads that suit individuals, rather they are focusing on mass transit.

This is just a wasteful stunt. The only shame is on himself.

WTF? What "mass transit" are you going on about?

Our railways are decaying and the average speed is around 60 kmph. Air transport is super inefficient in super expensive for the average Romanian, for internal flights.

A whole region of the country is cut off from development because on a 400 km radius the fastest you can go, legally, over long distances, is an average of 70 kmph.

So if I understand it correctly, the railways need improvement?

I'd put the effort there, mass transit is much more sensible than cars.

Dude, we're not talking about California-style "save the world" here. We're talking about providing a EU member non Third World infrastructure.

Trains would be awesome, but they need to be correlated with the local needs. Romania is poor and has low density. High speed trains are super expensive and only serve cities, basically. We need decent roads and highways.

This sounds just like California-style transit planning: they have a road network that’s so screwed up you can measure the economic drag, and laughably slow / disfunctional trains.

The article estimates the problem is only a 2% drain on the Romanian economy.

The SF Bay Area economy is surely burning more than 2% due to multi-hour commutes, distorted property values, lack of non-tech workers to support basic infrastructure (like schools and fire stations) etc, etc.

To keep things in perspective, California has a GDP per capita of $74,000. There are only two nations that can compare to that: Norway and Switzerland. It's nearly 100% higher than France, the UK and Japan.

Romania's GDP per capita is ~$10,700. They've made great strides in building up their economy in the past two decades. Their 21% GDP growth since 2007 is among the best in Europe. Per capita they rank above Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, China and will pass Russia this year or next.

California's problems aren't due to lack of income or economic output to tax, and it can afford a bit of drag on its economy from mediocre roads given the extraordinary output levels in question (which isn't to say CA shouldn't fix its terrible roads). California is a case of mismanagement of riches over decades, which isn't a position that Romania has (yet) found itself in.

>Their 21% GDP growth since 2007 is among the best in Europe. Per capita they rank above Mexico, Brazil, Turkey, China and will pass Russia this year or next.

Can you elaborate. AFAIK after privatization in '89 (fall of the communist party) we kind lost a lot of industry in metallurgy, marble extraction (got owned by big guys) etc..

"they have a road network that’s so screwed up you can measure the economic drag, "

Yeah. No. California has 'too much wealth / productivity / how do we share the surpluses? ' kinds of problems.

Romania has 'maybe we should have roads ?' problems.

This is a different dimensionality.

It's not just about economics. Let's say that I want to visit my cousin 400 km away. That's 7-8 hours away in Romania...

High speed trains aren't the only kind of train.

I've been to japan recently. I've seen with my own eyes what a good rail infrastructure is like.

Yes, but Japan's GDP is $3tn. Romania's is $200bn. And Romania's government is corrupt, not as corrupt as some Third World countries, but definitely way more corrupt compared to Western standards.

We need to learn to walk before we run.

And regarding high speed trains, for Romania that means 130 kmph :)


I had to go look it up, it’s $200Bn! $200M shocked me and also didn’t at the same time, as I have been there and seen it for myself.

Fixed :)

Motorways are absolutely needed in a modern country. To suggest otherwise is wilfully ignorant.

Is that something the EU should be funding?

Yes, and they are. I know people that work for the EU. Romania's government is so incompetent and corrupt that they're literally refusing EU loans or grants because they can't embezzle funds. And even when they somehow manage to get the funds, they're so incompetent that they can't manage to finish things on time and on budget. They started building a highway in Transylvania in 1999 and they've barely built 40% of it, 20 years later.

They've restarted works 2 times, my guess they do it so that each new government gets its cut.

These people are so cynical they'd just watch the country burn for their personal interest.

It’s sad but I think this is one of the key difference in richer nations is they just have better attitudes.

And the emigrants (1)https://www.populationpyramid.net/romania/2029/

For comparasion see Denmark: https://www.populationpyramid.net/denmark/2013/

Edit: removed offensive stuff



That's what everyone says and why the world is in the mess it's in.

Roads are antiquated technology. Romania has a chance to leapfrog most of the world and it seems you're looking backward.

Leapfrog? That's long term vision.

We're currently fighting against our government party because they want to put the lead anti-corruption prosecutor in jail as the EU is trying to appoint her as the head of the EU prosecutor's office.

We're talking about people who not only want to stuff their pockets (super bad, but let's say... ok, by local standards) but don't even do their jobs. They're like a parasite that kills the host knowing full well they'll also die without the host.

Heaps of hubris and stupidity lumped up in our politicians.

Roads might surpass trains in the future both in terms of the environment and safety. Self driving electric cars are where it is at, and Romania will get them once they are an affordable commodity.

that sounds like some kind of kool-aid

Actually, no, mass transit is pretty terrible in most places in Romania and we definitely need more motorways and/or expressways.

Trains are slow and have huge delays pretty much all over, the only subway system is in the capital city and is jam packed during rush hours, and it's also a bit unpredictable in terms of when the next train will arrive.

To speak to the stunt, it is actually very well viewed by both the average person as well as businessmen in Romania.

It's private money. It can't really be wasteful basically by definition.

... Of course it can be wasteful to them personally, if they think it didn't achieve its aims. But considering the modest price, the fact that I'm even aware of it means it definitely did.

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