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Business news
St. Petersburg's Hot-Spots Aren't Proving All that Hot
09.21.2004 13:30

internet_trends St Petersburg Times

By Galina Stolyarova

Staff Writer

Construction of a high-speed toll road between St. Petersburg and Moscow, one of about 20 such roads planned nationwide, is due to start next year.

The road between Russia's two capitals will be one of the first projects in a transport-route modernization program that will run until 2025, which was approved by the federal government this week.

Work on planning details for the road is to be undertaken during the remainder of this year.

Construction is expected to take about five years and cost some 180 billion rubles ($6.2 billion), the Transport Ministry said.

Deputy Transport Minister Alexander Misharin said the government will hold a tender to select a general planner for the highway on Sept. 29. Speaking at a news conference in St. Petersburg this week, he said building traffic roundabouts, viaducts, and over- and underpasses could significantly raise the cost of the project.

Viktor Bukreyev, deputy head of the Federal Road Agency, said the four-lane, 650-kilometer highway will run parallel to the existing arterial road, but will bypass major towns to reduce construction costs.

"Half of the funding will be provided by the Russian government, while the other half should be covered by private investors," Bukreyev said. "The investors will be granted the right to rent the surrounding lands for the long term."

Misharin said several Russian and foreign private companies have already expressed interest in the project.

By 2025, about 20 toll roads are to be built in Russia, according to the Russian Transport Ministry.

RIA-Novosti quoted Transport Minister Igor Levitin as saying that a full list of routes that are destined to be served by toll roads is scheduled to be prepared before the end of this month and presented to the government on Oct. 1.

"On Oct. 1 we will present a thorough concept of the construction and development of toll roads in Russia, along with our estimate of the costs for using them, " he said. "I wouldn't like to make any suggestions regarding the prices now, as it will very much depend on investors."

However, Bukreyev said to make the St. Petersburg-Moscow road profitable would require between 35,000 and 40,000 vehicles using it per day. The average cost of using an existing section of the federal road network is about 10 rubles (34 U.S. cents) per vehicle per journey, depending on the road or section of road.

Several small-scale toll roads are already functioning in Russia. The first toll road in the Moscow region, linking the Volokolamskoye and Ilyinskoye highways and the M-9 Baltia road, is expected to be built in the near future. The Moscow region government is going to charge autos 12 rubles each trip, while trucks will pay 20 rubles. Fixed-route taxis, or marshrutki, ambulances, rescue and repair services, traffic police and state service vehicles will be able to use the roads free of charge, according to the Moscow region press office.

The new highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg is set to become a part of an already projected transport corridor linking Moscow with Helsinki via St. Petersburg.

Misharin said the Finnish government has already confirmed their participation in the project.

St. Petersburg lawmaker Vatanyar Yagya is one of the strongest supporters of the toll road.

"Some may say that it would divide the drivers into rich and poor, but this is a far-fetched criticism," he said. "Yes, perhaps in the first years drivers with meager incomes won't be going through the high-speed toll road but in the long run the differences are sure to disappear. As living standards grow in the country, the difference will be scarce."

Yagya cited the United States as a perfect example of efficient use of toll roads.

"Completion of the toll road between Moscow and St. Petersburg will become a crucially important step in the development of Russia's transport routes," he said. "What is most important, the new highway will link the ring roads of the two cities, thus providing an ideal route for freight transport. This will indeed facilitate operation of the existing highway."

Some experts expressed reservations that investors for the new road project would be very hard to find.

Lev Savulkin, an analyst with the Leontieff Center in St. Petersburg, suggested that the government should have planned to extend and improve the existing highway.

He sounded a warning against what he said looks like yet another gigantic Soviet-style scheme.

"Foreign investors have had enough of them," the expert said. "Memories of the VSM [high-speed train] money-wasting adventure are still fresh. A single glance at the hole at the Moskovsky Station [where terminal buildings were due to be built], which is still there, is enough to scare off investors."

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