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EU-funded motorways shift Poland into high gear

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(GRODZISK MAZOWIECKI) - Cars whiz by on the sleek new A2 four-lane motorway, a major project in Poland co-financed by the European Union which is paving the way for new investment, including what is being billed as Central Europe's largest amusement park.

"Thanks to the new highway, this has become an ideal location," said Grzegorz Benedykcinski, the mayor of Grodzisk Mazowiecki a town of 42,000 where bulldozers are clearing the ground for the gigantic new theme park.

"We're just 36 kilometres (22 miles) from the heart of Warsaw, just half-an-hour now on the new motorway, whereas before, without it, you could spend up to two hours in traffic jams," he told AFP.

A vestige of communism, Poland's out-dated road network compares poorly to Western Europe and is largely unprepared for the level of traffic generated by a growing capitalist economy.

Thanks to European Union funds, about 1,300 kilometres (807 miles) of motorways now criss-cross Poland, but this still falls short compared to the total 269,000 kilometres of paved roads.

Since 2007, Warsaw has received six billion euros ($7.6 billion) in EU funds to bring its road network up to speed.

The A2 motorway linking Warsaw with Berlin, finished just days ahead of the Euro 2012 football championships co-hosted by Poland and non-EU neighbour Ukraine this June, was a key project.

With a market of 38.2 million consumers, Poland is Central Europe largest economy. It was allocated a total of 67.3 billion euros in EU cohesion funds in the 27-member bloc's 2007-13 budget, making it the most significant beneficiary receiving almost a fifth of the available resources for the time frame.

Cohesion funding is aimed at helping poorer members to catch up with the bloc's wealthier states, mostly by co-funding projects aimed at improving public infrastructure.

The A2 is seen as a prime example of the new found prosperity the subsidies have afforded Poland.

It has already improved the flow of passengers and goods between Warsaw with Berlin. Now, plans are afoot to extend it from the Polish capital to the eastern border for smooth transit towards Moscow.

"In Grodzisk, everything has changed. The motorway is attracting fresh investment like a magnet," said Benedykcinski, revealing investment offers have snowballed since the 620-million-euro amusement park was announced.

It's expected to create up to 3,000 direct jobs in the town, and up to 10,000 in associated hotels, restaurants and the transport sector, he said.

"The economic impact is huge. The motorway and this new project are going to liven things up here a lot," Benedykcinski added.

On the outskirts of town, a huge purple and gold gate planted in the middle of what was a wheat field just months ago heralds the future home of Adventure World Warsaw, due to open in 2015.

On its website, investors promise a "world-class destination resort with over 50 guest experiences" including "Polands largest one-of-a-kind indoor water park."

"This will be the only amusement park within a 1,000 kilometre radius -- the market is huge. About 160,000 Polish children travel abroad each year to visit this type of park, mostly to Disneyland Paris or Germany's Hiede Park Resort," Benedykcinski noted.

Adventure World Warsaw CEO, Dutchman Jan Mulder, is convinced its location next to the A2 motorway and close to two international airports -- including one catering to low cost airlines -- will attract clients from Poland as well as neighbouring Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic."

While the motorway is revving-up the local economy, its own arrival was marred by pothole after pothole.

With just weeks to go before the Euro 2012 kickoff in June, Polish authorities axed China's COVEC company as their main A2 motorway contractor.

European rivals had accused COVEC of price dumping when it won the contract with a cut-rate bid, 52 percent below the lowest European offer.

The Poles regretted the decision when the Chinese firm failed to pay Polish subcontractors who then stopped work.

The Franco-Polish consortium Eurovia and the Czech Republic's Bogl a Krysl contractor paved the last segments of the A2 with just days to spare before Euro 2012.

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