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Polish Infrastructure Poised for Acceleration: EU Funds Unlock Major Investments

INFRASTRUCTUREPolish Infrastructure Poised for Acceleration: EU Funds Unlock Major Investments

In the coming years, the Polish economy is expected to experience an acceleration in the implementation of infrastructure investments. This is linked to the EU financial perspective for 2021–2027 and the unlocking of funds from the National Recovery Plan. These investments are planned for decades, even centuries, yet the role of designers and engineers is often overlooked in discussions about such projects. Representatives from these professions point to several challenges that will impact the planning and execution of major infrastructure projects. Among the most significant challenges are the relationships with clients, the decreasing availability of skilled workers, the need to invest in new digital technologies, and EU regulations on sustainable development in the construction industry.

Last year, the General Directorate for National Roads and Motorways made nearly 267 km of new roads accessible, announced tenders for 42 new sections totaling 530.6 km, and signed 16 contracts for tasks totaling 216 km at a value of approximately 8.6 billion PLN. Investment expenditures at the end of the year reached around 15 billion PLN, the second highest result in the last six years following a record-breaking 2020. This year, the Directorate plans to allocate 18.1 billion PLN for investments under the Governmental Program for the Construction of National Roads and 1.4 billion PLN under the Program for the Construction of 100 Bypasses for 2020–2030. A total of 175.2 km of new roads is expected to be opened, and tenders for new sections totaling 215 km are planned.

“For 20 years, since Poland’s entry into the European Union, there have been constant major investments, primarily in the road sector. This road network is developing rapidly, the fastest in Europe, and although it will likely end in a few years, we expect a similar boom in the railway industry. These are our challenges: the slowly ending road market and the start of intense investments in the railway network, along with huge point investments like the Central Communication Port and the nuclear power plant. Both of these projects see the role of Polish designers and engineers, and that is a challenge we will undoubtedly meet,” says Marek Rytlewski, chairman of the board of the Association of Polish Designers and Engineers and president of the board of Transprojekt Gdański.

In the railway investment sector, there was a standstill over the last three years due to the end of the previous EU financial perspective and the freezing of funds from the National Recovery Plan. Their unlocking at the beginning of this year signifies an influx of nearly 59.8 billion euros from the European Fund for Recovery and Resilience. This financial boost aims to break the investment standstill on railways and launch new projects commissioned by PKP PLK.

Moreover, this year and the following years are expected to be marked by major investments in energy, including those supporting the development of offshore wind farms in the Baltic Sea. In early March, the Polish Development Fund announced an investment of 500 million PLN in the installation terminal in Gdańsk, crucial for offshore projects. The investment assumes the construction of a new quay at the Baltic Hub terminal covering an area of 21 hectares, with part of its financing also coming from the National Recovery Plan (the first installation terminal for servicing offshore wind farms is already being built in Świnoujście and is expected to be ready in 2025). Meanwhile, analyses and preparatory work continue for the two largest infrastructure investments, the Central Communication Port and the nuclear power plant, for which the government selected the location and technological partners last year.

Experts emphasize that in infrastructure investments, the role of the client and the general contractor is undeniable—without a stable position for each, the smooth execution of a public contract is impossible. However, in discussions about infrastructure investments, the role of designers and engineers is often overlooked. Yet their contribution to the execution of orders is equally important, as every investment requires a solidly prepared project.

“The perspective of designers and engineers is not well recognized,” assesses Tomasz Domaradzki, vice president of the Association of Polish Designers and Engineers and director of the Infrastructure Department at TPF. “This is shown, for example, by the story from a few days ago. Everyone is impressed by the newly opened footbridge for tourists in Warsaw, but if you asked who designed it, it’s hard to find that specific person in the media or online. This designer is not typically identified by name, which is a pity.”

As he emphasizes, it’s not about the popularity and prestige of a particular designer, but about the quality of the projects ordered.

“Knowing that designers and engineers are key elements of an entire investment has a significant impact on the discussion with the client. The client sees that they have a partner on the other side who represents a certain strength. Society can, in a way, put pressure on the client not to choose the cheapest designer who does not guarantee quality projects. Everyone goes to lawyers for legal advice, but we wouldn’t go to the cheapest one because the service

may not be of the right level. The same is true for designers,” stresses Tomasz Domaradzki.

Representatives of the industry point out that designers, like general contractors who grapple with tenders, financing, and contract valorization, also face problems and challenges. One of the main issues is indeed the relationships with clients.

“We ask for effective dialogue, genuine listening, hearing the industry’s voice, responding to problems. We are fully aware that not all issues and pains can be resolved, but we count on understanding,” emphasizes Marek Rytlewski.

Currently, a major challenge is also the recruitment of new, qualified staff, as interest in the profession of a designer engineer in the field of civil engineering is decreasing.

“Firstly, it’s a difficult profession, the studies are challenging and demanding. Secondly, despite the significant investments in Polish roads and railways, young people are looking for easier sources of income, which are offered by IT and various soft professions. Hence, the hard profession of an engineer, road builder, bridge builder, or railway worker does not enjoy such great interest among the young today. Therefore, for companies in our industry, recruiting staff is one of the biggest challenges we face,” says Tomasz Siwowski, president of the board of Promost Consulting. “Another challenge, created by the European Union, is the need for continuous skills improvement. Taxonomy, ESG, that is, environmental, social, and corporate governance, circular economy—these are completely new things for construction engineers, but without them, we can no longer fit into the policy of sustainable development. And this policy is beginning to dominate.”

Similar changes are also occurring in the architectural and design industry. BIM, or Building Information Modeling, is becoming the standard. This methodology for digital information modeling about a building and collaboration of all participants in the investment process based on data exchange platforms is being implemented increasingly widely: according to last year’s report “BIM, collaboration and information management in Polish construction,” which was prepared for Autodesk by Kantar, it is used by over a third of people and entities involved in investment and construction processes, which compared to 2019 represents a 70-percent increase. The highest usage rate of BIM methodology was recorded among architects and designers (41 percent), but in recent years, awareness and utilization of this methodology have also increased among contractors and investors.

“In this context, having the right, modern technology and software is also a challenge,” points out Tomasz Siwowski.

“We are introducing the most advanced tools and training personnel to meet the very high requirements at the Central Communication Port and other investments where BIM standards are key. To realistically, effectively design in BIM, very large investments are needed, both in equipment and in people. We are doing this, but this is also one of the most serious challenges for us today,” adds Marek Rytlewski.

The most significant challenges associated with planned infrastructure investments were discussed by industry experts during the Designers and Engineers Congress, which took place on April 17 at the Copernicus Science Center in Warsaw. The event was organized by the Association of Polish Designers and Engineers, the TOR Economic Advisors Team, and the Infrastructure Market portal.

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