Construction work began on the Czech Republic’s oldest and busiest motorway exactly 50 years ago. But the D1 is still not finished.
However, the project had a considerably older history. Construction had first begun as early as May 1939 on a motorway that was to run from Prague to Jihlava and then to Brno and to Zlín, on the border with Slovakia.
Within three years that project was abandoned, sacrificed, along with plans for “Hitler’s motorway” between Wroclaw and Vienna, to the Nazi war effort.
In 1946 the original project was revived, if more modestly, with the chief focus being on maintaining those sections and bridges that had already been completed. But in 1950 the plug was pulled once again.
Fast rising car numbers sent the planners back to the drawing board around a decade later.
Some of the work carried out in the 1930s and 1940s was incorporated into a new motorway plan approved in 1963.
The D1 was finally opened to traffic in July 1971, though the first section only ran as far as Mirošovice in Central Bohemia, around 30 kilometres from Prague.
Indeed, it was not until November 1980 that the final section, allowing motorway travel all the way from the capital to Brno, was completed.
As stated above, it was originally meant to reach Slovakia via the Zlín region. The 1963 conception, meanwhile, was for it to join up with today’s Slovak equivalent and continue all the way to Košice.
Following the split of Czechoslovakia, the idea arose to direct it toward Ostrava, concluding at Lipník nad Bečvou in north Moravia; later the road between there and Ostrava and the Polish border was converted into a new section of the D1.
However, one 24-kilometre section in the region still needs to be built. When it is the completed the D1 will measure 376 kilometres. Meanwhile, extensive roadworks on existing parts will last until 2020.
Over the decades around 800 people have lost their lives on the D1. The most famous victim was politician Alexander Dubček, who died two months after an accident on the motorway in 1992.