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Széchenyi Chain Bridge could be renovated for a fraction of the price of an empty football stadium

Due to a lack of financial resources, the municipality of Budapest will only renovate the historic Chain Bridge, while would entirely leave the surrounding Castle-tunnel and the underground- tram- pathway out from the renovation works according to a provided statement issued by the assistance of Mayor, who’s responsible for city management. Although the related public tenders will be announced during the following weeks, the construction works are likely to start somewhere around next year. On the below presented interactive infographics, we present data on since how long the renovation process of Chain Bridge is due and how many renovations could be carried out from the cost of some state- financed prestige investments. Take a look.

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Rust makes the renovation timely

Following a month-long dispute on the faith of the emblematic landmark of Budapest, the prospects of Chain Bridge (officially called “Széchenyi” Chain Bridge) are still uncertain. Since the bridge’s last 1988 renovation, an engineering examination in 2011 pronounced that the historic bridge is in a critical state.

It is time to renovate the bridge. Photo: Zsilák Szilvia/Átlátszó

The renovation of Chain Bridge is an official task of the municipal government of Budapest, yet the financial volume of a project of this extent well exceeds the available monetary resources of the capital city. For this reason, did the previous mayor István Tarlós ask for financial aid from the central government.

For the better transparency, here is a graph on how long the renovation process of Chain Bridge is due to. One can move on the timeline by clicking on the small red dots.

The turning points in the renovation of Chain Bridge.

According to a previous article of nol.hu, the renovation cost of the bridge is gradually increasing.

In 2012 the entire cost of the investment was measured around 10 billion forints, while in 2014 this sum was estimated between 12-16 billion forints, depending on the final engineering costs

A clash between the central government and the city of Budapest

The official standpoint of the central government is that municipality of Budapest, led by a new mayor from opposition Gergely Karácsony, does have sufficient financial resources to renovate the bridge. Furthermore, they argue, that the leadership of the city did have at time for starting the construction works in the previous 8 months, but it did not take any actual steps towards the execution of the project

The previous, central governments supported, leadership of Budapest however, was lacking the required financial resources for starting the complex renovation project. The most competitive offer for the renovation of the bridge and the castle tunnel was a sum of 35,8 billion forints, while the available funds for the project do not exceed the gross sum of 23,4 billion forints. Not to mention the value-added tax paid by the municipality of Budapest to the government for carrying out the construction.

Four application were submitted to the renovation project’s tender by constructor companies, namely: Dömper Kft., Közgép Zrt., STR Mély- és Magasépítő Kft. (Strabag) and A-Híd Zrt. The offers for the renovation work of the bridge and its underground- pathways on both sides were between 24,6 and 27,9 billion forints, while the renovation of the Castle tunnel was offered between 9,9 and 11,2 billion forints.

The previous mayor István Tarlós did not start the renovation works last year as he was finding the available offers to expensive.

The Tarlós leadership would have financed the constructions from a considerable amount of loan: the city of Budapest would have required of a sum of 6 billion forints governmental support,  a loan of 14,7 billion forints and the previously mentioned available resources to cover entire renovation projects costs. According to mayor Gergely Karácsony, the government is blaming the new leadership for not acting in its first 8 months in office, while the previous leadership did have 108 months for executing the renovations.

Furthermore, a considerable amount of resources were taken away from the capital city during the previous months: Karácsony was trying to bargain for some governmental support for the renovation works unsuccessfully, while the recent pandemic also caused considerable drop-outs from the regular tax- incomes.

The tunnel has to wait as only the bridge will be renovated

We have asked Kata Tüttő, the assistance of the mayor responsible for city management, who is responsible for the bridge’s renovation since this June. According to the original plans of the previous leadership the renovation constructions alongside the historic Chain Bridge would also have included the underground-tram- pathway on the Pest side, with the renovation of the castle tunnel with the Clark Adam square.

„The tunnel, the underground-tram-pathway and the square would be left out from the final renovation plans while only the bridge will be renovated. It was a tough choice to make, either to absolve the renovation within the rational boundaries. After all, the project evolves from a traffic development program to an architecture conservation effort.” – stated Kata Tüttő to Átlátszó.

According to Tüttő, the state of the tunnel is far less critical then the Bridge’s, the most crucial point lies in the renovation of the ventilation system.

The Castle tunnel has to wait with its renovation. Photo: Szilvia Zsilák/Átlátszó

The process in its current standing is in the preparation phase of a conditional public tender, before its official announcement. The previous leadership of the city entrusted the Budapest public transport Ltd. (BKK) with the organization of the tender. Since the new leadership did not take the task away from the firm, as it would have been taken up extra time in the already long-going process. Tüttő also had mentioned that the tender deadlines are regularly take up a fairly long timespan, while occasional legal-remedies could also lengthen the process.

„The construction is less likely to start this year it will probably take place somewhere during next year” – voiced Kata Tüttő.

Neither time nor money for a new bridge

The “Association of City Transportation” (A Városi és Elővárosi Közlekedési Egyesület (VEKE) in Hungarian) on its Facebook page stated that

“The gap between the renovation and the reconstruction cost of the steel structure is gradually decreasing. The engineers put the difference between the two sums of only a 20-25%, and this decreases day by day. It is very much likely, that the day when the entire reconstruction of the bridge will be more beneficial financially, than its renovation”.

The bridge from below. The pedestrian pathway can be seen on the left side. Photo: Szivlia Zsilák/Átlátszó

The city of Budapest, however, does not have the time either the money for the entire reconstruction of the bridge’s steel structure.

„If they want to build a brand-new bridge, it would take an entirely fresh construction plan and allowance procedure, which would take up years even in the best case. There is a huge difference between 5000 and 900 tonnes of steel, our engineers say it would be more fortunate to count with a 2 times multiplier in the project’s sum.” – expressed Kata Tüttő Kata to our site.

According to Tüttő, they would only gain time with the reconstruction, regardless, the bridge would need to be entirely reconstructed in 25-30 years.

Following the renovation works, the pedestrian and the bus traffic would remain on the bridge for sure, although it is still a question, whether the bridge would be opened up to the car traffic. The discussion on this would be opened during the renovation works, but the final decision would be taken by the Budapest Centre for Transportation (Budapesti Közlekedési Központ).

To make the bridge into a pedestrian bridge, it would mean the entire reconstruction of the bridge. As more people means a greater pressure than the car traffic for the bridge.

Why is the southern side in a considerably worse state?

Even a regular pedestrian could tell at the first look, that the southern side of the bridge is in a much worse state than its northern counterpart: The rails are much corroded there, and the bridge is strengthened with metal plates in many places. In many places the structure is entirely eaten up by rust, luckily its mostly covered by metal plates so one cannot see the river Danube floating below.

The southern part of the bridge is clearly in a worse state than the other side, the metal plates are probably covering some hole. Photo: Szilvia Zsilák/Átlátszó

„Considering that, why is the bridge in a different condition in its different parts there is no clear opinion, not even from the experts. The experts of “Budapest Public-routes” (Budapest Közút- the handler of the bridge), did examine the bridge, however, it is not deductible from what reasons are the contrast is this great. It is known, however, that fireworks with its back-falling sparks and heath are indeed helped the already developing corrosion.” – stated the assistant-mayor responsible for the bridge renovation, for our questions regarding this manner.

She also stated that the Chain Bridge is not dangerous currently, otherwise the colleges of “Budapest Public-routes” would alert the relevant authorities. Tüttő also has mentioned that besides a weekly report is made on the state of the bridge, it has been recently applied with support mounts to execute minor renovations. This is important in order to make the worst parts still safe and useable until the renovation works start.

It’s not just the bridge renovation, where Budapest lacks the financial resources

The details on the bridge’s constructions were settled in June between the central government and the municipality of Budapest. Kata Tüttő asked the government to release the previous 18 months- long fixture on the maximum span of construction. The reason behind this is that the municipal government hopes that with a longer construction span, maybe more constructors would apply for carrying out the project, with offering cheaper renovation fees. The central government accepted the request of the city leadership about using up the 6 billion forints governmental support solely on the renovation of the bridge, yet the application requirement of the tender must include the 18 months-long limitations of the bridge’s traffic. Following the above-mentioned meeting, later on that evening a ‘minor governmental modification’ was sent to the office of the municipality. It stated that the capital city in 2020, instead of 10 billion forints must submit a sum of a 21,8-billion-forint sum as the regular solidarity fee.

„Why cannot we renovate the Chain Bridge? It is very much hard when our pocket is drained every week.” – said Kata Tüttő.

The bridge’s rail is also being eaten up by rust. Photo: Szilvia Zsilák/Átlátszó

During last Monday’s parliamentary seat, Prime mister Viktor Orbán Viktor mentioned, that according to the National Treasury the municipality of Budapest owns a 180 billion forints worth government bonds. “That 180 billion, however, is not an applicable sum, since it has already been relocated to cover a 240 billion forints sum on various previously decided development tasks, previously taken and expirable loans, not mentioning the infrastructural debts.”- explained the mayor- assistant.

Budapest’s only remaining income source is the business tax, as the tax of the personal income and the corporate tax are declared to the state. The tax incomes from petrol and other fuels are also owned by the state, which would be sufficient for the maintenance of routes and bridges.

From 170 billion worth income from the remaining business tax, a 110 billion forint goes for the development of public transport, yet, the municipality still not have enough financial resources for investments. Therefore, in the frequent cases of tram and underground renovations, the city leadership is development is in a certain need for governmental support. From the recovered sum of the business tax, the management of the entire public transport is only one task, what the municipal government must finance: Public lighting, cleaning services, the management of green areas, theatres and other social services are alongside a list of a hundred other tasks.

The previous leadership left behind a 70 billion worth debt on road and bridge maintenance as the municipality was continuously procrastinated these investments. This means a 3 million square kilometre area of low-quality roads and a hundred of bridges and overpasses of the same sort. Since the previous governmental decrease in the price of the public providers such as gas- and water- prices, the Capital Waterworks (Fővárosi Vízművek) is struggling to finance the proper maintenance of the infrastructure.

Drains and pipes must be renovated throughout a hundred years periods. Considering the current investment rate, the water system should work sufficiently for 450 years, yet there are some 50 years old drain-pipes which are in dire need of a renovation: at least 100 kilometres from 5000 square metres of the pipe-system would need an instant replacement. Moreover, the capital city also has a 114 billion forints worth loan- described the financial standing of Budapest Kata Tütő.

The government drained the municipal budget for several times

Before the pandemic, in February the Ministry of Finance presented a plan to reform the system of the locally collected business tax, which would mean a serious blow for the incomes of municipalities.

This would only mean benefit for the most important taxpayers, the multinational companies.

It is planned for next year, to increase the solidarity tax paid by the municipalities. This would mean that from 43 billion forints, the taxes would rise to a 160 billion sum, which would mean that instead of 10 billion forints Budapest would have to pay 34 billion. Furthermore, the government takes an extra 12 billion forints of solidarity tax.

Another planned suggestion arrived last week, which would take an extra 5 billion forints out of the planned budget. The sum is relocated to the office of the state secretary responsible for ‘Budapest and its Agglomeration’, namely to the office of Gergely Gulyás. As it is not necessary to consider any applications or requests, this allows state secretary Gulyás to decide directly which districts would get financial support for road their renovations, more precisely, where to relocate the above-mentioned sum.

Rust eats up the Chain Bridge for decades now

The engineering report in the state of Chain Bridge is not public. In last December, the engineering site mernokvagyok.hu, held an interview with  Adrián Horváth. Horváth is the director responsible for structure planning at Főmterv Zrt and a Professor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. The renovation plans were presented in a joint project by the consortium of Főmterv Zrt, MSc Kft. and Céh Zrt two years ago.

A whole on the metal coverage. Phot: Szilvia Zsilák/Átlátszó

From the interview, it becomes clear, that although the weight taking capacity of the bridge’s basic foundation remained unchanged throughout the past 170 years, some parts of it are also in a need of renovation. The staff of Főmterv have shed light on serious corrosion- related damages, mainly in the chain- chambers starting from the surface and going down until the bottom-anchoring. The damages are due to the water leaks into the narrow chamber parts, which are continuously taking water even during the summer period when the heat in the form water precipitates in the colder environment of the chambers.

The chains are also rusty. Photo: Szilvia Zsilák/Átlátszó

According to the expert, the weight taking ability of the chains is mostly already used up, as a visible coverage of rust did appear on between them. From the interview it has also become clear, that beside the fact that the change of the pavement is also timely, the state of the bridge’s lane-structure is also in a critical state. “there is a 30% decreasement in the segments, there are places in the side-longerons or near to the ledge, under the cart- rut where this number is even worse. Therefore, it would be more beneficial to reconstruct the entire base of ferro-concrete plates.”

The state of the bridge is in a gradual decline. In an official statement in April, the ‘Budapest Public-routes’ (Budapest Közút) stated, that: “regarding the structure of the reinforced concrete parts, it is very much likely that by time, bigger chunks are starting to fall, causing unnecessary damages. (…) The biggest risk in the case of the pavement plates of the southern part of the bridge.”

The chains are also rusty. Photo: Szilvia Zsilák/Átlátszó

To halt the rapid devastation of the bridge, some restrictions were publicly implied.  Since the end of June, there is an active 30 km/h speed limit with the already implied weight limit, introduced in January following the troubling findings of Főmterv.

Billions are spent on other sorts of governmental investments

The government was heavily criticized as a previous plan was introduced to spend more on this year 20th of August celebration, as they were planning to hold a 3-days-long ‘Saint Stephen Festival’.

Establishing the new tradition could cost at least 6 billion and 575 million forints, excluding the cost of the fireworks. Since then, it turned out that the government is aiming to spend a record sum on this year’s fireworks, this amount will be at least 1,3 billion forints.

Considering that the previous year’s fireworks did fasten the corrosion of Chain Bridge, mayor Gergely Karácsony declared that the bridge cannot be used further on as a firework-launching- station for the 20th of August celebrations.

The previous year’s fireworks did fasten the corrosion process of the bridge. Photo: Szilvia Zsilák/Átlátszó

On the occasion of the recent dispute on the renovation of Chain Bridge, Átlátszó has gathered a few government-financed landscape- investments in Budapest, where the construction costs would be more than sufficient for a complex renovation of the Bridge, the tunnel and the surrounding underground- tram- pathway.

With Pressing the “Show” button, it can be seen that how many times would the investment cost be enough for the proper restoration of Chain- Bridge. One can switch between the particular landscape investments with the arrows.

These numbers show many times could the Chain Bridge have a proper renovation from particular government- financed landscape investments.

The Hungarian version of this piece was written by Szilvia Zsilák, and can be found hereEnglish translation by Zsombor Gál. Cover photo:  Szilvia Zsilák / Átlátszó



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