Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia Would Need 1,000 Years to Create a Modern Highway System at Current Construction Rates, Minister Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 13 – Russia, the largest country on earth and one of the most poorly served by its highway system, would need a thousand years to build a modern one if the current rate of construction of 500 kilometers of new road a year continues, according to Transportation Minister Maksim Sokolov, who promises little relief even for Muscovites in the coming decades.

            Sokolov’s comment, offered in a December 2012 report to the Duma, has prompted Nikita Kruglyakov of “Novaya Versiya” to examine the situation.  His comments, posted online yesterday, suggest that the situation with regard to Russia’s roads may be even worse than Sokolov suggested (

            According to the World Economic Forum, Russia ranks 130th about of 142 countries in terms of the quality of its roads, a situation that means the roads in Angola, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are better than in the Russian Federation and one that puts severe constraints on the economic development of the country.

            As in many areas, the problems with Russia’s highway system reflect the large amount of corruption in that sector and the fact that “the more roads that are built in Russia, the more money has to be spent on their repair, and consequently there is ever less money remaining for new construction.”

            And both poor construction methods – compacting the substrate below the payment remains far beyond levels required elsewhere – and severe climatic conditions means that repairs have to be made frequently.  But they aren’t being made. The lack of money means that roads should be repaired every few years but aren’t for as much as 25 to 40.

            Government officials have promised that this figure will be reduced, but, Kruglyakov notes, “this will occur no earlier than 2018,” that is five years from now. In the meantime, Russia’s existing roads will continue to deteriorate, even as its highway system will expand over that period by only 2500 kilometers, less than one-half of one percent of the current total.

            Some experts, he says, have even more pessimistic estimates.  Mikhail Blinkin, head of the Moscow Institute of the Economics of Transportation and Transport Policy, says that far more money is needed and needed now both for new roads and repair of old ones. If it is not forthcoming, the time between repairs “sooner or later could grow to 70-80 years.”

            Many countries spend far less on highways than does Russia but have far better roads, Kryuglyakov observes.  He suggests that one of the reasons is that they build concrete rather than asphalt roads. In Russia, “only three percent” of the roads are constructed of concrete, but those, built in the 1960s and 1970s, “still do not need major repairs.”

            One of the reasons that Moscow has not used concrete is that highways built with tit are up to 50 percent more expensive than are those which use asphalt and because the economics of the road industry in the country are such that construction firms make more money rebuilding highways than they do constructing new ones.

            The situation with Russia’s roads and highways has become particularly acute in the capital.  There, the government has failed to fully fund its roads program over the last several years. But experts say the program is defective in and of itself because it does not reflect a general plan.

            Thus, eight-lane highways feed into two-lane ones, something that cannot fail to lead to traffic tie ups. And there is little attention to side roads or to things like bridges over railways, something that is making the situation still worse even as the number of cars continues to increase.

            Even when major roads are fixed, Nikita Polyansky at says, that in and of itself does little because officials have not yet learned how to allow for drivers to make turns in a simple way. Consequently, even though Muscovites currently have only half as many cars per capita as European capital residents, they currently face far more difficulties.

            Their problems will only increase as the number of cars goes up, Kryuglyakov says, but the situation beyond the ring road will continue to be dire, with cars and even trucks trapped in mud a continuing issue and with many facing the challenge that given the absence of roads, one simply can’t get from here to there on the ground, unless the rivers are frozen.

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