The Sofia Burgas motorway

03/08/2013 by Christopher Buxton

Sometimes it’s hard to be a Boyko, wond’ring where the love disappeared. The current coalition is busily digging into the Gerb party sewers  frantically shoveling wagon loads of shit to pour over Boyko’s head – accusations of financial mismanagement, corrupt cronyism, gross intrusion into citizens’ privacy etc . – in the hopes that this muck will be so sticky that its stink will remain in voters’ nostrils come the next election.  So what will the Greatest Living Bulgarian’s legacy be?

If Bate Boyko is remembered for anything positive, it must be the motorway linking Sofia with Burgas. Such excitement – my friends and neighbours all boasting how they can now drive to the capital in just over a couple of hours. The speed limit is 130 kph but my friends assure me that the police grant a 10 kph margin.  This mysteriously translates into a cruising speed of 150 kph.

How hard to remember those golden days of leisurely motoring when Bulgaria’s only stretch of motorway ran from Sofia to Plovdiv and the KAT police put trestle tables across all but one lane at the beginning of the highway just to remind comrade drivers how lucky they were to pretend that their Ladas and Trabants could be temporarily transformed into formula 1 racing cars for the 120 kilometres.

Now Bulgaria is in Europe and Bate Boyko boasts that the motorway built with European cash is his creation. However whether this road deserves to be called a motorway is seriously open to question. Unlucky foreigners can easily be fooled into believing that driving down this road at the prescribed speed limit is safe. They should know two things. First the oldest part of the road  – between Sofia and Plovdiv is in serious need of repair and second that there is little or no warning of roadworks.  Those beloved autobahn signs that advise you kilometres in advance of speed restrictions and lane closures are entirely absent.  Instead the unwary driver in the fast lane faces a sudden unheralded line of traffic cones fifty yards from a parked bulldozer.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred he swerves and because of the relative lack of traffic intensity he survives to rain curses on the bulldozer’s mother.

On Sunday traffic on the motorway was intense. At the end of July Turkish gastarbeiders are making their summer migration in cars filled with children and luggage. Just one more country to cross and they are on home soil.  Outside Plovdiv, two policemen were flapping their arms and directing traffic off the motorway.  Like inept toreadors they were risking their lives with just a line of plastic traffic cones to protect them from the cars charging at them at phenomenal speeds.

Elsewhere diverted drivers expect to see further signs, directing them through back roads towards that magic point where they can safely rejoin the motorway. On this occasion the traffic column sent off down the dual carriage way into Plovdiv took the first opportunity to perform an illegal u-turn and return to join the motorway just a few yards down from the flapping policemen. No-one had thought to close the slip road back onto the motorway.

A mile on down the road the traffic slowed to thread its way through the wreckage of five cars, that had swerved, crashed, shunted in trying to avoid an enormous bulldozer left over the weekend in the fast lane. In a nearby field a stunned Turkish woman wept beside her smashed up car – a car filled to the roof with luggage and presents for her friends and relations back home.

Meanwhile thanking our lucky stars that we hadn’t embarked on our journey half an hour earlier we drove on towards Burgas down the remaining 250 plus kilometers of BB road. The Turkish drivers had now left to join the still largely single track road towards the border and the only snake in this motoring heaven is that there are no petrol stations, no toilets – just a very few treeless shrubless high fenced parking lay byes.