Albania’s old bridges require intervention

In many bridges of the national road network of Albania, intervention has become necessary due to their age and erosion problems.

A program of the Albanian government with the support of the World Bank aims to improve the infrastructure of the first 30 bridges that show the most urgent needs.

The project is expected to start with a bridge in Gjirokastra District, one of the areas with major problems in this sector.

In Albania, a high number of bridges in the country’s national road network need intervention, not only because of their age, but also because of erosion problems.

The Albanian government, with the support of the World Bank, will start this year a bridge safety program which foresees financing with about 55 million dollars for the first 30 bridges that have immediate needs for intervention.

According to the World Bank Office in Albania, about 800 thousand inhabitants have a direct benefit from the program.

The engineer of the Albanian Road Authority in Gjirokastër, Aristotel Noni, talks about this program and the beginning of the investment with one of the bridges in this district.

The World Bank program envisages the rehabilitation of some of the most problematic bridges throughout the territory of Albania. One of the first bridges that was included in this project is the Viroi Bridge, which is located at the entrance to the city of Gjirokastra, where the works are expected to start this year.

Mr. Noni further says that the Viroi bridge project brings solutions to the problems that have arisen during these years, such as the safety of this segment, floods or the impossibility for pedestrians to cross the natural part of the lake.

“With the intervention, three very important objectives are resolved in this road segment. First, road safety is solved since the geometric parameters will be contemporary, secondly, the problem of flooding is solved since the new road and bridge will have an elevation of about one meter from the current road, and thirdly, the access of visitors from one side of the lake to the the other as there will be a sidewalk for pedestrians.”

Every six months the Road Authority monitors the main bridges and there are many problems, says engineer Noni.

“Bridges are monitored by us once every 6 months through a specialized inspection. The problem is depreciation, especially of old metal bridges. These bridges are 100 years old and we have the Dragot bridge and the Lekli bridge in our inventory. Several interventions have been made in recent years, but again their depreciation remains a problem and the construction of other bridges or the construction of the new road axis Tepelen – Dragot should be considered in the future.”

Specialists see the passage of vehicles with heavy tonnage above the capacity allowed by both bridges as problematic for both the Dragot bridge and the Lekli bridge.

The national road network of about 4,000 km in Albania includes 803 bridges and other related structures, some of which have not yet been fully inventoried. The construction of many of the bridges and other structures of Albania’s road network dates back to 1930 with different design standards.

According to the report of the Albanian Road Authority and the World Bank “during the last nine decades these structures were built at different stages of development based on different design standards and in recent years gradually the design and construction standards of roads including bridges are aligning with the standards European Union of Eurocodes”.

In addition to the road authority, local governments also have their responsibilities in the maintenance of bridges, especially rural ones. But many of the municipalities say that they have no financial means to cover the interventions.

At the entrance to the city of Këlcyra, this year’s winter has cut off one part of the road, while problems have also appeared on some of the bridges. “The attempts of the municipality are to prevent damage that would later bring greater consequences”, says the deputy mayor of Këlcyra, Riza Allamani.

“In the territory of the municipality, we have 12 bridges on rural roads and 5 bridges that cross the national axis. The bridges start at the entrance of the Këlcyra gorge, at its exit and towards the area of ​​Dishnica. Rural road bridges are well-maintained, consolidated, except for the recent rains that damaged the side of the bridge at the entrance to the city of Këlcyra, which was repaired by the Albanian road authority.

Mr. Allamani says that local governments should have more funds for investments in road infrastructure and especially bridges.

The higher institutions of the Albanian state, the relevant ministries must definitely allocate funds, says Mr. Allamani.

In addition to the bridges of the national and rural network, even stronger problems appear in the monumental bridges built mainly in the 18th century and which constitute a rare asset of the Albanian cultural heritage.

Vaso Polo, specialist in the National Culture Directorate in Gjirokastër, says that the maintenance programs are also combined with intervention projects for the old bridges, in cooperation with the Institute of Cultural Heritage.

The Regional Directorate of Monuments, says Mr. Polo, takes actions from time to time on the ground to clear the vegetation on some of these bridges and maintenance interventions. These bridges are a great potential for tourism, says Mr. Polo.

“The vast majority of these bridges are accessed by visitors and are really one of the biggest draws for tourists who want to see these old bridges, the style of their construction and get information about the craftsmen who built them.”

Some time ago, rescue interventions included the Kordhoca Bridge in Gjirokastër, but the need for maintenance and interventions appears in many other monumental bridges.

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