Staunton, January 14 – Russian government media outlets have been celebrating the opening of a four-lane high-speed highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, but now it is coming out that that expensive project – 520 billion rubles (8 billion US dollars) – is far from finished.
Few of the planned rest areas have been opened, many of the interchanges are yet to be built, and only 39 of the 115 cellphone towers needed have yet been erected, Mariya Lapshina of Profile reports (profile.ru/society/kogda-skorostnye-dorogi-poyavyatsya-na-vsej-evropejskoj-territorii-rossii-213576/).
But the attention Russia’s first major high-speed highway has received is prompting Moscow to think big. While the country currently has fewer than 5,000 kilometers of such highways (of which 1500 are federal roads), it plans a dramatic expansion in the network over the next 15 years both by rebuilding existing highways and adding new ones.
But Russia is so far behind other major countries – China has 143,000 km of such highways and the US has 108,000 km – and is so large that even the expansive plans of the Russian government will not link the entire country together. Instead, Moscow plans to focus on the development of a north-south and east-west core.
If that plan is followed, only about half of Russia’s federal subjects (44) will be linked together by such highways, although they will include the more populous ones, such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, and so will supposedly be available nearby for approximately 75 percent of the population.
The north-south corridor will involve the construction of such highways from St. Petersburg to Novorossiisk, extending in the north to Estonia and Finland and in the south to Taman, Kerch and Sevastpol in occupied Crimea. The east-west corridor will extend from Belarus to the Kuzbass and link up with roads in Kazakhstan.
The second will link up “all the largest cities of the Middle Volga,” Lapshina says, including Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Naberezhny Chelny, Ufa, Samara and Ulyanovsk. The two corridors will also include roads bypassing Moscow in order to improve the speed of traffic flows.
More immediately, the central Russian government plans to focus on building another ring road around Moscow and promises to have it ready by 2021. This will involve the construction of more than 300 km of new highways. The government also plans to bring online roads to Kazan and to the south well before 2035.
Almost all of these highways are going to be toll roads, the Profile writer says; and most of them are slated to be constructed by funding from the government and the private sector. The fact that there will be tolls may put them beyond the reach of some Russians, but the speeds they will offer will benefit others and domestic trade.
It remains to be seen whether this ambitious plan will be carried out and carried out at anything like on schedule. The Moscow-St. Petersburg route was announced in 2006 but construction didn’t begin until five years later; and it is still not finished even though these are the two most politically powerful cities in the country.
What is certain, however, is that there are going to be major controversies over routes and about whether this or that city will be connected. The winners can expect to see their economies and populations grow; the losers, a decline in both. Consequently and again as in other countries, the fights over these will be intense – and that won’t speed things up either.