Zagreb (AFP) - A Chinese consortium was chosen to build a controversial bridge deemed vital for Croatia's tourism industry, officials said Friday, announcing the first significant Chinese investment in the European Union member.
The 2.08-billion-kuna (279-million-euro, $338-million) offer by the China Road and Bridge Corporation-led consortium for construction of the bridge was "economically most favourable," a statement from the state-run Croatian Roads firm said.
The bridge that will link two parts of Croatia's Adriatic coastline is aimed at cutting travel times for tourists, but has sparked controversy with Bosnia.
The span across a bay will enable drivers to avoid a 10-kilometre (six-mile) stretch of road belonging to Bosnia, thus saving time at border crossings, and reach the famous southern resort town of Dubrovnik more quickly.
However, Sarajevo claims the bridge would hamper its maritime access, prompting Croatia to increase the height of the bridge to 55 meters (181 feet).
Last June, the EU, which Croatia joined in 2013, approved 357 million euros to finance the bridge project which is seen as important for tourism, a key driver of Croatia's economy.
Nearly 18 million tourists visited the former Yugoslav republic last year, far outstripping its population of 4.2 million, mostly going to its stunning Adriatic coast which features more than 1,000 islands and islets.
The deadline for completion of the 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles) bridge, the country's longest, is 36 months, the statement said.
Croatia said earlier it planned to complete the bridge in 2022.
There were two other bidders -- Austria's Strabag company and an Italian-Turkish consortium.
Croatia started building the bridge in 2007, but the project was halted due to budgetary constraints.
Following major investments in Serbia, China has appeared eager to boost its presence in EU member states such as Hungary and Croatia.