Interview With Vlasta Jagerova, Coordinator of Brno’s Traffic Closures
Vlasta Jagerova. Credit: Zdenka Obalilova, Brno City Municipality.
Brno, Oct 10 (BD) – Brno’s seemingly endless roadworks are a common cause of complaint among residents, who feel there is always a part of the city being dug up. The City of Brno set up a working group to coordinate the related traffic closures and minimise disruption for road users, but there is still a lot of work ahead; the working group currently has 250 planned traffic closures on its list.
“If each of them lasted a year, a century later we would still have two-thirds of the work in front of us – even if nothing new happened, which is utopia,” says Vlasta Jágerová, the lead coordinator of excavation works and closures in Brno. “From this point of view, it is not always possible to do things gradually, but it is necessary to dig in several places at once. However, we do try to make it as efficient as possible, to do the maximum amount of work on the site, to close roads for the shortest possible time, in the least busy part of the year, and so on.”
This year’s holiday traffic restrictions were so great that they even dismayed hardened drivers who are used to Brno’s traffic jams. How did this happen and what does it indicate about the coordination of construction works?
The whole process is very complicated, and even if we operate in plans and schedules for several years ahead, the reality is often different. Schedules are shifted by a month, a year – and that is nothing unusual: someone appeals over the selection process, the investor has to redirect the funds somewhere else, or perhaps they are waiting for a decision on the subsidy, or for the announcement of a suitable subsidy program. Or the contractor comes up with the fact that they weren’t supplied with some important component.
In recent years, however, there have been more construction works than Brno has seen for a long time. The roads being reconstructed or built now are those that have the greatest impact on traffic, both now, when there are restrictions, and in the future, when they are finished and will significantly help improve traffic flow. We are talking about the outer city ring-road and the expansion of D1. It was with the start of work on the six-lane highway that the biggest complications arose in the city this year.
And could this not have been prevented through coordination in the working group?
The Directorate of Roads and Highways (ŘSD) control all the restrictions on the highway themselves, and apply diversion routes even if they are detours of several kilometres. From their point of view, this does not restrict traffic in the city in any way. But of course it has an effect: the narrowing and transfer of traffic in the opposite direction significantly reduces traffic. Any accident, even a minor one, will stop traffic completely. It spills into the city and overwhelms the already congested roads. In any case, ŘSD does not need the consent of the municipality, unless it expressly needs to do something on its roads. For them, a “municipality” is one city district, not the whole of Brno. We all meet at the working group and try to get as much information as possible, but even ŘSD itself is often not able to give the exact date in advance. The highway was originally supposed to start already in the spring.
The pentlagram: a model showing how the traffic volume in the surrounding streets will change as a result of the closures. You can download it as a PDF in the original resolution here.
How does the Closure Coordination Task Force actually work? Who is part of it and how often do you meet?
It was established by the Brno City Council, it has about 25 members, it includes all the main bodies involved in traffic restrictions: ŘSD, the regional Road Administration and Maintenance (SÚS), municipal companies such as Brno Communications (BKOM), heating and water plants (BVK), gas plants, unions of the municipality and the regional office, private companies, the Czech Police, the Railway Administration, and for public transport the Brno Transport Company (DPMB) and Kordis. We meet once a month and everyone reports on their construction works within the city, how their preparation has progressed, how they are doing securing financing, choosing a contractor, when they expect to start work and when they will be done with them. We deal with concurrences of constructions, the most suitable implementation dates, and the expected scope of traffic measures.
What options does the working group have? Can excessive construction works be “banned”?
As for closures, there is no legislative framework governing this. It is mainly about agreement and mutual information. Each of those entities has its own needs and plans, and of course it would prefer to always close the road completely, because that is the easiest way to organise the work. I issue an opinion on the proposed traffic restriction and either agree to it in the given form and date, or not. But then it is up to those who give the round stamp if they follow my opinion. They are not obliged to do so.
And do they respect your opinion?
Mostly yes. After all, it is also advantageous for them to know that someone approved it and that they have someone to point the finger at! If some things are clearly in conflict, we always try to agree with the investors on how to put it together. Recently, for example, we were dealing with the fact that Stará dálnice was being built, and a turn onto Žebětínská was added to it, but it was passable in at least one lane, so it was still possible. But then “Farinka” was supposed to be added, and I had to postpone it and agree with SÚS that it would not go together with Stará dálnice. So once it was done, we let the first week of school pass, which is always extremely difficult for transportation, and started. SÚS should end within a month, and immediately after that, BKOM starts again at Chironova. So this is how the buildings are stacked and ordered. For example, the waterworks waited a year before they could close Bohunická, because we told them it must be during the holidays when there are the least number of cars. Who could have known that the highway would suddenly fall into it.
“In recent years, however, there have been more construction works than Brno has seen for a long time,” says Vlasta Jágerová. In the photo, the construction of a flyover as part of the large Tomkovo náměstí – Rokytova urban ring-road. Photo: Z. Kolařík
At what stage do the intentions of individual companies reach you?
Our department at BKOM [of which Vlasta Jágerová is the head – editor’s note] also coordinates excavation work, which is something different than just traffic closures. We currently have about 5,000 planned excavation works, while about 250 road closures with a significant impact on traffic are dealt with within the working group. It works in such a way that each organisational lead or network manager is required to report four years in advance what they plan to repair. We then include it in the excavation work schedule, which is updated twice a year and posted on the official board. Thanks to this, other administrators also have an overview of what will happen where, and can coordinate their work.
At the same time, we also have meetings. During these, for example, the water companies will say: “We need to make a channel and water in this street and we will immediately repair the surfaces after we drill there.” But BKOM catch on and say they would like to resurface those same roads, so they join the project; the gas company will evaluate that there are often malfunctions there, so they will also replace it straight away, while, for example, Technical Networks may come to the conclusion that the public lighting is fine there, so they do not need to connect.
Or maybe it will start with BKOM reporting that it will build new surfaces somewhere, and the water companies will catch on to the fact that the networks in that particular place are in bad condition and will try to get it into the budget for that particular year. This is how we try to connect building works. This is how we are now completely renovating Krkoškova. On the other hand, it doesn’t work always and everywhere, and sometimes doesn’t even make sense – each of those networks has a different lifespan; water pipes and sewers last significantly longer than optical cables, for example.
But what if someone comes to Krkoškova after a year or two and changes their mind, realising they still need to do something there?
If a continuous new surface is made somewhere – and this does not mean a few metres of sidewalk or paving somewhere, we are really talking about entire sidewalks or road surfaces – according to the decree, it must not be touched for several years. It is eight years for new construction, four years for the upper layer. Of course, there are exceptions, but in principle it applies, and the company may then have to look for another route or technology that does not disturb the surfaces. Or simply waiting for the next repair.
For example, now ŘSD are preparing the so-called maintenance of Hněvkovského, which means that the upper layer of the road will be sanded and a new one will be laid, curbs will be repaired, but the character and width ratios will not change. There is also inadequate water supply and sewage in that place, but for BVK it is a huge investment that will certainly not fit into their budget. Even if it did, the maintenance work will take two months. but with the canal and water works we would be there for a year, and we can’t afford that given what is happening on D1. So the waterworks will wait until it is necessary to renew the surfaces again in seven or ten years – and then they will join in.
So such maintenance is done roughly once every ten years?
This is very individual to each site. It depends on the load, drainage, and overall condition of the underlying layers. Sometimes people wonder why certain works are taking place, because other roads are far worse. But this must be evaluated by the road manager. In any case, if the lower layers are in order and only the surface is repaired, the service life of the road is extended by many years. On the other hand, if maintenance is postponed, the structural layers can be broken and then the repair is more demanding, so instead of a two-month maintenance job, it becomes a whole-year reconstruction. Elsewhere, new surfaces would be needed, but we are waiting for work to coincide with the replacement of the water supply or gas pipeline, for example.
The Directorate of Roads and Highways, in cooperation with the city, is currently working on several sections of the outer city ring-road. In the photo, the section of Bauerova. Photo: Z. Kolařík
If a road is closed and a diversion is put in place, can it be ensured that there are no further restrictions on that diversion?
No, there is no such thing. Of course, we try to make sure that there is nothing on the diversion routes, but it cannot be guaranteed. I now have three areas in mind in the near future where, in my opinion, constructions are being planned that cannot be implemented together. One is the repair of the Otakar Ševčík bridge, while two more bridges are to be built on Ostravská, the waterworks will have to close Olomoucka nad Černovičky, because there have already been several incidents with water flooding cellars and houses, and the region is also preparing the construction of the Bedřichovická roundabout– Hviezdoslavova–Holzova in Slatina.
The second problem will be in Brno-south, where the tram line and the public lighting on Vídeňská are due to be repaired, but at the same time as the highway – that is, what this year lasted just a few days, and yet caused a lot of trouble for motorists, we would be enduring for four months.
And finally we have Zidenice, where in the coming years the completion of the outer urban ring-road, especially its connections, will coincide with work on Markéty Kuncové for Nova Zbrojovka, on Nová Šámalová and Zábrdovická, the Bubeníčkova bridge and under the bridge on Šámalová. It will be very complicated to find a solution, and it will be the subject of many more negotiations.
From your point of view, is Brno doing its best to coordinate these works, or is there potential for improvement?
The municipality has no way to interfere; everything is just about agreement and willingness to accommodate each other. By law, the municipality only has to discuss the closures that concern it, not approve them.
Do you think the municipality should have the legislative possibility to intervene in this?
That would again be double-edged. If the laws gave municipalities more powers, you would often not make diversions anywhere, because what already traffic-burdened municipality would voluntarily agree to let external traffic spill over into it? It must be said, however, that the municipalities in the Brno district generally approach this positively. It is clear that they will also find themselves in a similar situation in the future.