Four-lane highways plan given time frame

Construction of four-lane highway.

PHOTO: Mihkel Maripuu

The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications has finished its new road maintenance plan that sheds light on the government’s political priorities for roadbuilding, including reconstructing Estonia’s three main highways to have four lanes.

The campaign of constructing four-lane highways is planned to be launched in earnest in 2024. The Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla highway should have four lanes in full by 2030, with efforts set to concentrate on the Tallinn-Tartu and Tallinn-Narva highways after that.

The new road construction development plan prescribes roughly €5 million a year for relevant preparations. This includes planning, environmental impact assessments, land acquisition set to begin in 2021.

The fact that major construction work is planned to be launched in 2024 is reflected in figures. If the current road maintenance plan prescribes a total road maintenance budget of €333 million for 2024, the new plan requires an extra €100 million, €168.2 million of which would be spent on road construction. Sums are forecast to grow after 2024.

“If previously main roads were planned to have 2+1 lanes, the new plan prescribes 2+2 lanes as per the coalition agreement. Hence the price hike,” said Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas.

The government has been mulling a plan to construct four-lane highways using public-private partnerships (PPP) for months. This would see construction companies build roads and the government rent them. Whether the government could use PPP projects and how should become clear from a finance ministry analysis to be completed in December.

“Right now, the new road maintenance plan is based on the traditional state funding model. Should it prove possible to use PPP projects, we will adjust the plan,” Aas explained.

There are also plans for other four-lane sections of highway. A three-kilometer section of the Tallinn-Paldiski highway is also expected to get four-lanes. Head of the ministry’s roads division Julia Bergštein said that the reason is simply the high traffic density of these sections and not the coalition agreement.

Work on major four-lane sections is set to begin in 2024 when the current government might no longer be in office. A 45-kilometer section of the Tallinn-Tartu highway and an 11-kilometer section of the Tallinn-Narva highway will be reconstructed to have four lanes before 2024.

Estonia’s road maintenance budget for 2020 totals €279.7 million – a reduction of over €35 million based on the current plan adopted last year. Taavi Aas gave the end of the EU budget period as the reason. “The new budget period has not yet begun and because talks are still underway concerning roadbuilding subsidies, these resources have been excluded from our plans,” Aas said.

Another noteworthy aspect is that the new road maintenance plan allocated over €15 million to paving gravel roads next year – three times what was planned in 2018. These sums will fall again from 2021 and hover around €5 million a year. “Because road maintenance was not given additional funding, we found the money from the Road Administration’s budget, by reshuffling our priorities,” Aas said. He said that rendering gravel roads dust-free will remain a government priority, meaning that additional funds will be sought during the spring’s state budget strategy deliberations. These plans are not reflected in the new national road maintenance plan as it is based on last spring’s state budget strategy.

“If the budget strategy will not give us additional funding in spring, we will again have to find the money from the Road Administration,” Aas said.

Considering the government’s goal of making busier gravel roads dust-free by 2030, these additional funds are needed. “In order to pave all gravel roads the annual traffic density of which exceeds 50 vehicles a day by 2030, it is necessary to double corresponding maintenance and construction volumes,” the new road maintenance plan bill reads. Estonia has 2,072 kilometers of such roads.

The new plan postpones reconstructing the Riia ring road in Tartu to have multiple levels for which the city and the Road Administration have been preparing in recent years. Construction work has been postponed until 2024. Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Taavi Aas said that should it prove possible to use PPP projects for road construction, the intersection could be funded sooner as a government priority.

The ministry has sent the new national road maintenance plan bill out for coordination.

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