Wednesday 22 December 2010

Russia embarking on major toll funded motorway construction programme

Russian newspaper Vedomosti has reported that the Russian Government intends to build 3000km of tolled highways.  This includes the already announced Moscow-St. Petersburg motorway, and also:
- Moscow Central Ring Road;
- Kaliningrad central route;
- Moscow-Kazan highway; and
- St. Petersburg- Kazakhstan highway among others.

Tolls are reportedly to be introduced on some existing routes to help funding widening and realignment, although every tolled route is meant to have a free alternative.   The Russian Government is apparently concerned at the apparent poor state of its highway infrastructure with average speeds on major highways of only 40-60 km/h, and an appalling accident rate (with almost all major routes being single carriageway/2 lane only).  Russia is notable for having a poorly developed highway infrastructure, with most emphasis on transport being on railways and air transport.

Toll roads are the responsibility of state-owned enterprise Avtodor which is seeking private investment in concessions, but also receives taxpayer funding.

One article (Russian only) has scientific director of the Institute of Transport and Roads, Mikhail Blinkin, suggesting toll roads are the wrong way forward, but rather hypothecated fuel taxes.  Given how the US and others are keen on moving towards tolls for user pays funding, he is looking at a trend in the wrong direction.   Certainly there is a longer term issue of sustainable funding of existing routes, but for the new network if tolls can facilitate the development of a modern highway network for Russia, then all well and good.  What would be particularly advantageous is for such routes to remain unsubsidised, for electronic free flow tolling to be facilitated and for the ongoing commercial management of new highways.   This would help ensure the long run maintenance of such routes, the development of new capacity as it is economically efficient to do so, and would also mean that fair competition can be maintained between road and rail transport.

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