Bulgaria Road Network

By | November 13, 2022

According to wholevehicles, Bulgaria has a fairly extensive road network and has a number of motorways, many of which were built from the 1980s. More and more highways are being built. The main highways are the A1 and A2, which run from Sofia to the southeast and northeast respectively.

The highways are often better known by their name than by number. They are named after geographic locations, such as rivers. The A1 is called the Trakiya (Thrace), after the area it runs through. The A2 is called the Hemus and is named after an old name for the Balkan Mountains through which the highway runs. The A5 is called the Cherno More, which means Black Sea, and runs along the coast of that sea. The A4 is called the Maritsa, named after the river of the same name in southeastern Bulgaria. The A3 is called the Struma, named after the river of the same name in the southwest of the country, and the A6 is called the Lyulin and is named after the mountain range through which the highway runs. There is also a ring road from Sofia that is being upgraded to a highway. There is also an express road from Sofia to the Serbian border towards Belgrade.

From 2006, parts of the A3 (Struma), part of the A4 (Maritsa), as well as the A6 (Lyulin) have been completed. The intention is to build a larger motorway network, such as the A1 from Sofia to Burgas, the A5 along the Black Sea coast and the A3 to Thessaloniki in Greece and the A2 to Varna. In the long run there should be a highway from Sofia to Skopje (North Macedonia) and Niš (Serbia). Plans for north-south highways through the center of the country are in the form of expressways. These plans are not very concrete, so transit traffic from Central and Western Europe to Turkey remains dependent on the route through Serbia. This route is sometimes found unattractive due to higher toll rates and stricter border controls.

Many roads in Bulgaria are scenically beautiful, due to the mountainous character of the south and center of the country. Many roads run along national parks. The quality of the roads varies, so there are a number of highways with old road surfaces. The A2 is an example of this, but many roads have been renovated since 2004. However, one can encounter many road works that are sometimes poorly demarcated. New roads have excellent quality.

Road management

The Bulgarian road network is managed by the API, the Agencya Patna Infrastructura (Cyrillic: Агенция Пътна инфраструктура, АПИ).

Avtomagistralic

Bulgaria has a modest network of motorways, which are called avtomagistrali. The first motorway was opened in 1978, after which the network was expanded somewhat in the 1980s, but stagnated during the 1990s. Since 2000, the motorway network has been increasing in length again, especially from 2009. The A1 and A2 form the eastern west route from Sofia to Burgas and Varna respectively. The A4 is a branch of the A1 to Turkey. The A5 is a short highway near Varna and the A3 and A6 form a north-south route from Sofia towards the Greek border. The network is still being expanded considerably.

History

In the 1960s it was decided to build motorways in Bulgaria as well, following the example of neighboring Romania. In 1962 it was decided to build the A1 from Sofia to Plovdiv. The construction of this highway did not start immediately, work only started in 1975, after which the highway was opened to Chirpan a few years later. Construction of the A4 to Turkey began in 1979, but the construction of these was regularly stopped for a longer period of time. In 1980 a short section of the A5 was opened at Varna. The fourth highway to be built in Bulgaria was the A2, which was to run from Sofia to Varna, as an east-west link through the north of the country. Construction began on this highway in 1984, passing through considerably more difficult terrain than the A1 opened in the 1970s. There was a lack of money, and construction was halted in the late 1980s. In the meantime, 19 kilometers of the A4 motorway were opened in Southeast Bulgaria in 1991. Construction of the A2 was resumed in the mid-1990s, and the section between Sofia and Yablanitsa was opened to traffic in 1998 and 1999.

These two highways were Bulgaria’s only highways for a long time. After 2000, the economic situation in Bulgaria improved again, and the construction of new highways could be resumed. In 2005, the eastern section of the A2 between Shumen and Varna opened to traffic. In 2006 the A1 between Karnobat and Burgas was opened, followed in 2007 from Chirpan to Stara Zagora. Also in 2007, the first section of the A6 was opened in southwestern Bulgaria, between Daskalovo and Dolna Dikanya. In 2010, part of the A3 around Harmanli was opened, followed in 2011 by the A5 between Sofia and Pernik, starting to shape Bulgaria’s long-haul highway network piece by piece. On July 15, 2013, the last section of the A1 between Yambol and Karnobat was completed. This makes the A1 the first completed highway between two major Bulgarian cities (Sofia and Burgas). In 2015, the last part of the A4 opened, so that there is a through highway to the border withTurkey.

Future

The road network of Bulgaria.

The focus is on the construction of the A2 through northern Bulgaria and the A3 through southwestern Bulgaria. The construction of the highway to the border with Serbia and the highway from Burgas to Varna has a somewhat lower priority. The SST is being constructed around Sofia, as well as the upgrading of parts of the Sofia Ring.

The north-south connections through the Balkan Mountains in central Bulgaria are probably built as expressways. Several north-south connections are expected, including a vital link from the Romanian border at Ruse via Veliko Tarnovo to Stara Zagora, providing Romania with a more direct high-quality connection to Turkey. It is planned to develop the section between Ruse and Veliko Tarnovo as a motorway. An expressway is also planned from the A2 at Botevgrad to Vidin in the far northwest of Bulgaria, via Vratsa and Montana. This connects to the Vidin – Calafat Bridge.

Main roads

The main road network of Bulgaria is divided into three classes, the first, second and third class, indicated in written language with the prefix I, II and III. The formal name for a national road is a ‘Republican road’ (Републикански път, Republikanski pŭt).

The network of main roads in 2019 consisted of 19,877 kilometers of road:

  • 6 motorways – 816 km
  • 9 1st class roads – 2975 km
  • 44 2nd class roads – 4035 km
  • 150 3rd class roads – 6400 km
  • 256 4th class roads – 5651 km
Main roads of 1st and 2nd class in Bulgaria
First class
I/1 • I/2 • I/3 • I/4 • I/5 • I/6 • I/7 • I/8 • I/9
Second class
II/11 • II/12 • II/13 • II/14 • II/15 • II/16 • II/17 • II/18 • II/19 • II/21 • II/23 • II/27 • II/29 • II/34 • II/35 • II /37• II/44 • II/48 • II/49 • II/51 • II/52 • II/53 • II/54 • II/55 • II/56 • II/57 • II/58 • II/59 • II /62 • II/63 • II/64 • II/66 • II/71 • II/73 • II/74 • II/76 • II/79 • II/80 • II/81 • II/82 • II/84• II/86 • II/97 • II/99

Main roads of the first class

The I/1 to I/9 are the main roads of the first class. They are the main roads for international traffic in areas where there are no motorways yet, and connect all major cities of Bulgaria. The network is built in a grid, even numbers run from west to east, and odd numbers from north to south. The roads are all about equally important, but the I/7 is the least important.

Main roads of the second class

The second class major roads have two digit numbers, connecting the regional towns with the major cities and the first class major roads. A large number of these roads have a through function. The length is usually between 50 and 150 kilometers, but there are shorter and longer roads, for example the I/17 is only 7 kilometers long and forms a bypass of Botevgrad.

Main roads of the third class

The major roads of the third class have three-digit and four-digit numbers, and almost never have an important function. They connect villages and rural areas with the other main roads. Most are no longer than 40 to 50 kilometers. Major roads with a four-digit number are rarely indicated.

Expressways

In 2011, a number of corridors were designated as expressways. These are 2×2 lane highways and grade-separated intersections with highway characteristics, similar to the drum express in Romania or the droga ekspresowa in Poland. To date, no roads of this type have been constructed.

European roads

European roads in Bulgaria
E70 • E79 • E80 • E83 • E85 • E87 • E675 • E772 • E773 • E871

Toll

In Bulgaria tolls have to be paid on all main roads and motorways with a one, two or three digit road number. These are the motorways, the E-roads and all roads of the first, second and third class. This vignette was introduced in 2005 and has been a digital e-vignette since 1 January 2019. It was the only physical vignette system in the Balkans for a long time, Romania switched to electronic (administrative) vignettes in 2009, as did Hungary. There is no separate toll to be paid for motorways.

The physical vignette was replaced in 2019 by an e-vignette, comparable to Romania and Hungary. A distance-based toll charge has also been introduced for freight traffic. On January 15, 2018, a contract was signed with Kapsch for this. On 13 September 2018, the Bulgarian Parliament approved the introduction of electronic tolls. The technical system of the truck charging system started on August 16, 2019, with a commercial start of the electronic toll collection on March 1, 2020.

Road numbering

Motorways

The motorways are not numbered according to a system, but chronologically. For example, the A1 was the first highway, and the A6 is the most recent highway. There was always a lot of uncertainty about the exact numbering, but on August 6, 2012, the A numbering was established by law, so that this ambiguity has disappeared. As of December 27, 2018, the road numbering has been changed again.

  • A1: Sofia – Plovdiv – Stara Zagora – Burgas
  • A2: Sofia – Shumen – Varna
  • A3: Sofia – Pernik – Dupnitsa – Sandanski – Greek border at Kulata
  • A4: Chirpan – Svilengrad – Turkish border at Kapitan Andreevo
  • A5: Varna – Burgas
  • A6: Kalotina – Sofia

Road numbers of motorways are not always indicated, however.

Main roads

There are three road classes in Bulgaria, the main roads of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd class, which are indicated in written language with the prefix I, II and III respectively. A prefix does not appear on the signage. Single-digit numbers have the prefix I, two-digit II, and three-digit III. There used to be a 4th class with the prefix IV, but this has been transferred to the municipalities in 2005, at the same time as the Bulgarian road vignette was introduced.

The main roads are numbered in a grid, based on the main roads of the first class. Odd road numbers run from north to south, increasing eastward. For example, I/1 is the westernmost north-south axis, and I/9 is the easternmost. Even numbers run from west to east, ascending south, so I/2 is the northernmost west-east axis, and I/8 is the southernmost. The system is quite consistent. The two digit numbers are based on the one digit, and are clustered. Thus, the I/21 will run close to the I/2. Three-digit numbers are again based on the two-digit ones. Two main roads are a ring road, namely the II/18 around Sofia (Ring Sofia) and the II/97around Dobrich. The road numbering system has room for new routes, not all road numbers are in use. There is only one main road with a number ending in ten, namely the II/80, the shortest numbered main road in Bulgaria.

Signage

Signage is bilingual on the main roads, in both Cyrillic and Latin script. On smaller roads they are often only in Cyrillic and some knowledge of that script is useful. The signage on the highways is quite simple and road numbers are missing or only indicate the E number. Highways have green signs, other roads have blue signs. On main roads the road numbers are indicated, without a prefix. E-numbers are indicated with a blue background on non-motorways. Along the highways are often fork signs with a rounded arrow and a clear arrowhead. References to the underlying road network are in a blue box. The distance to an exit is also indicated. Other than that, the signs are pretty simple. Foreign targets are not always well indicated, on the A6 (E79) reference is mainly made to the border town of Kulata, and not to the much larger Thessaloniki. There is, however, a difference between the very simple old signage and the somewhat improved new signage, in terms of layout and font.

Maximum speed

Road type Vmax

In Bulgaria there is a general speed limit of 140 km/h on the avtomagistrali, although lower speed limits may exist. On the road class skorostni putishta (express roads), 120 km/h applies. The maximum speed for trucks is 90 km/h. The general speed limit outside built-up areas is 90 km/h for passenger cars and 80 km/h for trucks (category C) and 70 km/h for category C+E (truck with trailer). The maximum speed in built-up areas is 50 km/h.

Traffic intensities

The traffic intensities in Bulgaria are not yet very high, but exact figures are not known. Most of the crowds are around the largest cities, and there is quite a bit of traffic in between, but real traffic jams only occur in Sofia. During summer weekends it is often very busy on the I/8, A1 and A3 from the Serbian to the Turkish border. This is the transit route for Turks living in Western Europe who go on holiday to Turkey in the summer. Long waiting times at the Turkish border at Kapitan Andreevo are no exception on those days, but are not too bad for the rest of the week. In winter there is sometimes a bit of traffic on the roads to the mountains, when you go skiing, but these are not yet southern German, French or Austrian scenes.

Road safety

Year Road fatalities
2010 776
2011 658
2012 605
2013 601
2014 655
2015 708
2016 708
2017 682
2018 611
2019 628

In 2010, there were 105 road deaths per 1 million inhabitants in Bulgaria, a decrease of 23 percent compared to 2001. This makes the country one of the least safe countries in the European Union. In 2015, the number of road deaths per 1 million inhabitants was 98, the highest number in the EU.

The reasons for the poor level of road safety lie in the strongly outdated infrastructure and an outdated vehicle fleet. The number of road deaths per 1 million inhabitants is almost twice as high as the EU average and more than four times as high as the safest countries. The registration rate of the number of road injuries is moderate, and is mainly based on police reports.

Bulgaria Road Network