The development of motor transport, notably the public bus service known by the Polish acronym PKS (Polish Motor Transport) – every village expected to have a bus stop – resulted in the development of the local road network. The capitals of voivodeships were
linked first, whereas transport links at the county and municipality level were intensively expanded from 1973. The organisation of road engineering work changed considerably as a result of the national government’s co-operation with the United Nations and the implementation of the Road Network Development Programme in 1973-1977. It is worth noting, however, that even the greatest commitment and dedicated work of road engineers were ‘sabotaged’ somewhat by the bureaucratic chaos prevailing in Poland under communism.
Two central government departments were responsible for roads: state roads were administered by the Ministry of Communications and Transport, municipal roads were run by the Ministry of Land Economy and Environmental Protection, while local roads were within the remit of the National Councils. Everything was supervised by the omniscient and infallible Communist Party.
In the 1970s, the subject of motorways reappeared, echoing the appeal made by Professor Nestorowicz thirty years earlier: ”Poland in Europe must not remain an island without a modern road network”.
Ironically, in 1971 the journal Drogownictwo (Road Engineering) featured an article entitled Building Motorways written by the Director of the Central Management of Public Roads, engineer Eugeniusz Buszma already quoted above. Reiterating his observations made just after the end of the war, the author stressed the need to build high-speed roads and motorways. He also analysed the then unsatisfactory condition of road engineering and devised an action plan aimed at changing the status quo. According to Buszma, ”the plan for the expansion and improvement of the road network was adequate given the disastrous condition of roads after the war, but with regard to the construction of motorways in Poland, we have a delay of at least 10 to 15 years”. Based on several analyses, the author outlined the plan for developing the motorway network, and its key features include: ”1. The construction
of motorways should begin no later than 1973, (…) and the currently non-existent organisational and technical facilities must be prepared beforehand. (…) 2. Four motorway construction sites should be established at the same time: a) the Wrocław – Gliwice stretch; b) the Upper Silesian Industrial Region stretch; c) the Kraków – Katowice stretch; d) the Warsaw – South stretch. (…) 3. Within about three years, the overall yearly output of 80 to 100 km should be achieved”.
An investment achievement of that time was the construction of the Warsaw – Katowice route nicknamed ‘gierkówka’ after the Silesia-born Edward Gierek, First Secretary of the Polish United Workers’ Party Central Committee. In addition, many major roads were modernized, e.g. the present-day national road no. 7 from Warsaw to Gdańsk along with the newly built ring roads in Płońsk, Mława, Nidzica, Ostróda, Pasłęk and other localities. Another achievement was the famous Tri-City ring road providing vital transport links between Gdańsk, Sopot, Gdynia and southern Poland.
The legacy of that era is numerous car parks and rest areas along regional roads and viewpoints, frequently decorated with sculptures and statues. Many of them, particularly in the Kuyavia region on the Piast Trail, commemorate the Millennium of the Polish State. Both their location and design were of patriotic significance. Mostly forgotten nowadays, these places deteriorate
due to lack of maintenance even though they still perform their utility function serving travellers as rest stops.
The unfinished Berlin-Moscow motorway heralded the demise of the communist system and was a meaningful historic symbol of its inefficiency. According to plans, the investment project was to have been completed before the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow; hence, the motorway was nicknamed the ‘Olympic Route’. Currently, the route coincides with the A2 motorway, which incorporates the Września – Konin stretch opened in 1985.
Another curiosity of road engineering in the communist period is straight stretches, each about 2 km long and at least 10 m wide. These mysterious roads are the legacy of the Warsaw Pact. As infrastructure was adapted to a military confrontation with the capitalist West, twenty-one Road Airstrips or DOLs (Polish acronym) were built in the vicinity of regular military airfields. They are no longer used except one DOL called Kliniska located north of Szczecin within regional road no. 142 and still maintained to allow aircraft to land safely.
Poland was one of the few European countries where pilots were regularly trained to use such emergency airstrips. Currently, two modern Road Airstrips can be used for emergency landing: one on the A2 motorway near Września, the other near the ”Jastrząbka” rest area close to the 518th km of A4.
On its 35th anniversary, the Polish People’s Republic could boast 54,000 km of newly built and 87,000 km of modernised roads, as a result of which the density of the road network stood at 46.8 km per 100 sq km. Only 127 km of motorways were built. At that time, the ‘First Stage of Economic Reform’ began, being the government’s euphemism for its attempt to rescue Poland’s national economy that was invariably drifting towards economic disaster. The transformations announced consisted of the gradual incorporation of market mechanisms into the existing system of economy. Unfortunately, a real consequence was a general chaos with regard to legal and organisational aspects and division of responsibilities. A new principle establishing the self-financing of enterprises and local governments was introduced but it actually boiled down to massive cuts in subsidies from the central government, while the actual income of those entities was very limited. Under such circumstances, most investment projects were suspended, while the funding earmarked for the current maintenance of roads was quite inadequate, often insufficient even for the most urgent running repairs