Thursday, November 28, 2019

Russia’s Roads Built Not for Travel but to Enrich Officials and Justify Endless Repairs, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 25 – The experience of other countries shows that if Russia wanted to, it could relatively easily build roads more rapidly, more cheaply, and of higher quality than it does; but experts say that what makes Russian roads special is that they aren’t built for travel but rather to enrich corrupt officials and justify endless repairs by construction companies.

            In Russia, the experts say, “only simple people and businesses which use the roads are interested” in having good roads. And as a result, Russians for many years ahead will get caught in traffic jams, suffer from potholes, and curse officials for their problems (

            Despite all the hype about Vladimir Putin’s recent opening of a new high-speed toll road between Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia lags far behind world leaders in terms of its network of such roads. It has only 2063 kilometers of such roads, compared to China which has 142,500 km and to the United States which has 108.394 km.

            Under Putin, Moscow has claimed a “fantastic” leap in the length of its highways, some 69,000 kilometers a year between 2006 and 2018. But that increase did not reflect new construction. Instead, it is the product of a change of what roads are counted. Most of the increase came from roads within cities and towns.

            And that change had another consequence Moscow has not trumpeted. In 2006, 85.2 percent of Russian roads had hard surfaces. Twelve years later, only 70.4 percent did. And those roads that are paved are paved with asphalt not with concrete. In the US, 60 percent of roads are concrete, but in Russia, only three percent.

            Concrete roads are slightly more expensive to build, but far cheaper to maintain. And that is why Russia isn’t building them. Building more expensive roads allows money to be diverted to corrupt officials who oversee highway construction, and repairs bring in more money for both he companies and the officials behind them.

            According to the experts, this means that “the stronger cartels which control the branch in a region, the worse are the roads.”  Another problem is that oil companies are the major lobby for asphalt roads, and their political clout means that few officials are ready to support concrete roads even though such highways would be better.

            Nonetheless, officials say, Russia could build good roads if there was the desire; but the desire isn’t sufficient to overcome the entrenched interests opposed to such an outcome.

            Another example of what corruption in highways leads to are the giant and absurdly expensive projects like the embankment highway in Sochi, the Crimean bridge, and plans for a bridge across the Lena in Sakha. Such projects allow Moscow to enrich officials and justify what they are doing by pointing to “’the uniqueness’” of what the Russian state is doing.

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