Paved Main Market Square in Kraków in a gouache from 1804 by Michał Stachowicz.

Until late 18th century, streets in most cities were paved only in the city centre – in the market square and in main streets. In Warsaw – despite previous attempts and the existence of the Pavement Commission operating since 1693 – only in 1744 were larger scale road investments commenced. The street surface was covered with soil; then, it was sprinkled with water and compacted. The next layer was approx. 10 cm of sand. The outline was marked by kerb bases, that is, rows of stones aligned along a tensioned rope. Afterwards, a layer of field stones was laid onto the surface. They were dressed as required, arranged vertically and compacted into the sand. Larger joints between single stones were filled with road metal. The pavement was covered with another layer of sand and compacted with heavy pile hammers that weighed approx. 30 kg.

In 1744-1761 the ‘Royal tract’ leading from the Old Town to the district of Wola was built on the north-south axis along the Vistula with exits towards the river. At that time more than 118 thousand m2 of streets were paved.

In 1768, the Polish Parliament (Seym) established Commissions of Goods Order in all voivodeship cities. Over 20 years they were concerned with the stocktaking of city assets, the preparation of survey plans and they initiated works related to, among others, street construction and maintenance.

Although income from road tolls was received by feudal lords, the condition of roads was not improved. The country lacked efficient administration authorities which could enforce statutory benefits from toll beneficiaries. At the same time, the amount of fees and number of toll houses increased, which was not reflected by the quality of roads.

Direct routes connecting partner cities in the past were preserved only between Toruń and Poznań as well as between Kraków and Lviv. The medieval road network between the Vistula and the Oder began to disappear – a new system of roads was built, originating in the centre of Warsaw. The routes converging in the capital city became main roads, and concentric ring roads became local roads. Via Magna, that used to carry the main traffic between Poznań and Kraków, was abandoned.

Paved square in front of the Staszic Palace in Warsaw.

This transport arrangement was reflected by the first (although imperfect) map of the Kingdom showing the system of roads, bridges and fords prepared in 1772 by Rizzi Zanoni.

In the 19th century Poland was under the rule of three empires representing different levels of autonomy and different systems of administration. The invaders also strove to incorporate new territories into their own transport system.

In lands under Prussian rule as early as 1775 the General Directorate for Road Construction was established in Galicia and Lodomeria. It was headed by Jan Gross, who over the following 30 years built nearly 2 thousand km of macadam roads. In 1777-1779 he erected a permanent wooden bridge spanning the San river in Przemyśl which: ”was supported on three stone piers, was all roofed and was 80 fathoms long”.

Under the management of Jan Gross more than 3 thousand bridges and culverts were erected in Galicia, including, apart from the above mentioned bridge: the bridge spanning the Biała river near Tarnów, the bridge across the Raba river near Droginia and the bridge across the Wisłok river in Rzeszów.

Gross used his own road construction method based on four layers of gravel or road metal that were not thicker than 50 cm in total. He used the same surface on the wooden carriageway of bridges. In 1780-1790 the ‘Emperor’s Road’, that is, the Vienna roadway connecting Lviv to Biała and continuing to Vienna was built. Jan Gross also modernized an old trading route on the 118-kilometre-long section from the Dukielska Pass to Przemyśl.

Bridge in Przemyśl, 19 th /20 th century.
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Wrocław – Lessing Bridge built in 1875.
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Wrocław – Uniwersytecki Bridge erected in 1867-1869.
Bridge in Przemyśl, 19 th /20 th century.
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Warsaw, Nowy Zjazd and Kierbedź Bridge – 1859-1864.
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Wrocław – Tumski Bridge built in 1889.

In 1817 an act was adopted which defined a new division of roads in Galicia according to their rank. Those were trading routes, post service routes as well as roads and roadways of local significance. In 1824 the government rescinded the compulsory corvée that was replaced with hired labour provided by specialized companies. The subsequent road act of 1866 defined the division of roads into national, district and local roads, and in the early 20th century district and local road funds were established to provide financial
resources for constructing and maintaining the road system.

At the end of the 19th century, roads in Galicia were full of contrasts as recounted by a road supervisor from Tarnów: „the so-called territorial roads the maintenance of which is not the responsibility of the government, and trunk roads which, built by professionals, to some extent ensure good condition and durability, whereas the district and local roads at numerous locations can be passed only at some seasons of the year (…) and many times whole settlements and their vicinity are cut off from the rest of the world”. The lengths of the roads were as follows: national roads – 2,900 km, trunk roads – 1,800 km, district roads – 1,700 km, and local roads – approx. 2,000 km. The first iron bridge on the continent was opened in 1796 in Silesia.

The Małapanew Ironworks in Ozimek and the Royal Cast Iron Foundry in Gliwice produced more than a dozen bridges.

Bridge across the Strzegomka River in Łażany.
Suspension bridge across the Mała Panew river in Ozimek.
Zwierzyniecki Bridge in Wrocław.
The Green Bridge in Gdańsk was commissioned in 1883.

The bridge across the Strzegomka river in Łażany was planned to be a stone one. However, the investor, Nicolas von Burghauss decided to use iron. The single-span bridge was made of five iron arches that were 15.10 m and 2.89 m long, spaced at 1.35 m. The arches were joined by means of bars halfway through the span and reinforced by transverse connectors. The deck was built of 50 mm thick, 0.50 m wide and 5.80 m long slabs. The edges had a 0.36 m tall parapet on which decorative railings were mounted. The cobblestone surface was laid on a layer of gravel.