A post-war view of the destroyed bridge across the Vistula in Włocławek, 1945.

During World War II, under the occupation, the problems of Polish roads were naturally given less priority, but they were not forgotten. The Polish Government in Exile in London was working on legislation and elaborating plans for the post-war construction of motorways and Poland’s inclusion in the European transport system.

The chief figure in the exiled road authorities was Aleksander Gajkowicz, an outstanding engineer who graduated from Warsaw University of Technology and headed the Department of Road Construction at the Ministry of Communications and Transport. As
early as 1944 he became Director of the Department of Public Roads within the Lublin-based Polish Committee of National Liberation, and led to the speedy adoption of an act on the organisation of road authorities that had been drafted during the war.

In 1945, engineer Eugeniusz Buszma wrote: ”The war has ended for soldiers on the frontline. We civilians, however, are mustering all
our resources. Our country, devastated by the war and occupation, now needs armies of builders who will restore it to order and rebuild the destroyed residential districts and transport system”.

In the People’s Republic of Poland, the level of road infrastructure development was very uneven. The so-called Regained Territories in the west and north of Poland had a reasonably well developed network of roads with improved surfaces suitable for motor traffic, while in other parts of the country, particularly in the eastern voivodeships, good roads were rare. These two organisms, or two worlds, had to be integrated in order to function smoothly under the new, post-war conditions, which was a repeat of the situation faced by Polish road engineers at the dawn of the Second Republic.

Kierbedź Bridge in Warsaw, World War II
Kieberdź Bridge in Warsaw.

Eugeniusz Buszma, who would later head the Central Management of Public Roads, remarked that ”merely restoring the destroyed infrastructure to its normal condition (…) was not sufficient and that a fundamental objective of rebuilding the State is to integrate the ’old’ and newly regained territories into an organic whole”.

As at 31 December 1945, Poland had nearly 91,000 km of paved roads, but only 22,000 of those had an improved surface made of sett, asphalt or concrete. Although the average road density was 29 km per 100 sq km, there were huge regional differences. In Lower Silesia, for instance, it stood at 57 km per 100 sq km, while in the region of Podlasie, it was only 16 km. Not surprisingly, all roads were in a very poor state of repair, and most bridges were destroyed as a result of military operations.

For two years, efforts focussed solely on restoring the existing transport links to reasonable standards because only 27,000 km of roads were accessible to bus traffic. The modernisation process began in 1947; the old surfaces were gradually improved.

Destroyed stone bridge in Bardo Śląskie, 1945
Reconstruction of the viaduct in Chabówka, 1946

In relation to motor roads, the Three Year Plan envisaged: ”a gradual improvement of the existing road network in order to entirely halt its degradation in 1949; the rebuilding of permanent bridges along major routes; a partial resurfacing of the most damaged roads”.

Plans provided for the rebuilding of 1,000 km of roads in 1947, 1,600 km in 1948, and 1,900 km in 1949. Bridges were given a much higher priority and it was planned to repair 8,200 m of bridges in 1947, 15,400 m in 1948 and 14,700 m in 1949. However, a genuine increase in the number of modern roads was not achieved until the Six Year Plan was implemented with its emphasis on capital spending. The Plan, adopted in 1950, ”provided for constructing over 6,500 km of new paved roads; upgrading about 4,000 km of roads; rebuilding of more than 850 km of improved road surface; constructing 30,000 running metres of new road bridges; rebuilding about 30,000 running metres of damaged bridges and upgrading about 5,000 running metres of temporary bridges to permanent bridges; constructing 12 major road bridges on the River Vistula, 3 on the Narew and 3 on the Oder. As a result, the total
length of paved roads was to increase by 6.8%, roads with improved surface by 14% and operational bridges by 38%”. Unfortunately, the plans signed by President Bierut did not translate into reality: only 1,245 km of paved roads were completed under the Six Year Plan.

The mid-1950s saw the growth of Poland’s automotive industry as the serial production of passenger cars and lorries began. Policies for the development of motorised transport formulated by the government were followed by investments in road infrastructure. Between 1960 and 1970, a total of 26,000 km of roads were built or modernised. That figure included 10,000 km of state roads suitable for heavy traffic. Besides repairing or laying a new surface on roads, the modernisation also included all road engineering works: bends were profiled; viaducts over railways and the first grade-separated junctions were built. Ring roads and multi-lane exit roads were also built in the area of the largest cities.

Construction of road no. 213, Jasna-Podpłomień, 1954.
Tar heating in a steam machine, Żegiestów, 1960