- Jon Hellevig
- February 13, 2019
Russia has since the 19th century been notorious for the poor quality of its roads, so much so that there is a malicious saying asserting that the country has two major problems: fools and roads. Looking at the European Union of today, we must note that on the first parameter Russia clearly has taken a giant leap ahead (if they ever lagged behind), but the quality of roads still leaves much to be desired. But thankfully there has been immense progress in this respect, too, and with Russia’s newly adopted grand national plan on development of the countries road network the picture might within a few years change altogether.
The fact is that since Vladimir Putin took over, the investment in Russia’s road network has really picked up, and the trend is accelerating. Prior to Putin becoming president in 2000 there was only a paltry 365-kilometers of expressway consisting of three objects: the Moscow Ring Road; a 157 km stretch of motorway from Moscow towards the city of Tula; and another 99 km stretch from Moscow to the town of Volokolamsk. The latter two roads had been built for the Moscow Olympics to showcase the progress and modernity of the Soviet Union.
From 2000 to 2018, the expressway coverage increased sixfold, or with 2050 kilometers. In addition to the expressways, this period also saw the completion of a 2165 kilometer road from Chita to Khabarovsk connecting Russia’s Far East with the Siberian heartland and thus for the first time connecting the whole vast country from East to West in one proper single line of roads.
After his reelection in March 2018, Putin ordered a further push in road building resulting in a grand national plan to develop Russia’s road network by 2024 with nearly $100 billion in investments. This forms part of a broader strategic program to improve the Russian economy, demographics and infrastructure with public and private funding amounting to a total of $400 billion. Thanks to Russian purchasing power parity advantage and the much lower construction costs than in Western countries in general, Russia actually gets much more mileage for the money. We expect that the corresponding program in any Western country would cost at least half a trillion US dollars. These investments will by 2024 bring some 5200 more kilometers of expressway (most of that by 2022), bringing the grand total to 7,600 km. The Putin presidency will then by 2024 have seen a 20-fold increase of this crucial road infrastructure.
Infrastructure boom – new bridges and airports also all over
This report forms part of Awara’s series on Putin’s incredible infrastructure investments. In this link you can read about the magnificent new bridges being built all over the country: Putin the Pontiff – Bridge maker. And here is another one on the amazing new airports cropping up all over: See For Yourself – All the Amazing Airports of “Stagnating Russia”.
About our method
Ideally an expressway (motorway, freeway, interstate) is deemed to be a controlled-access highway providing for unhindered flow of traffic with two or more lanes in one direction where opposing directions are separated so that lanes in opposite directions do not provide direct access to each other. The expressway would not have any level intersections with other roads, railways and pedestrian paths as all crossings would be arranged through overpasses and underpasses, which are accessed through slip roads (ramps). The expressways in this report largely comply with the given definition, although not always fully. Basically we have included both controlled-access highways and limited-access highways, as the two terms are closely interrelated although the latter may offer somewhat less isolation from other traffic. From point of view of the driver the benefits are similar considering the general traffic circumstances.
Not only the fancy expressways, but road development in villages, too
In addition to the expressways, the Russian road network has seen other enormous improvements in form of construction of an impressive array of new bridges (above linked story), numerous bypass roads around towns and villages and grade separation (overpass bridges) at junctions and over railroads. A national program on improving road safety and quality has seen some two thirds of all Russia’s roads considerably improve from 2016 to 2018.
In connection with the national program on road development 2024, the government has set new targets on improving the second tier roads, roads between regional centers and roads within urban agglomerations. This foresees a complete modernization of some 39 thousand kilometers of the interregional roads and modernization of 85% of the roads within the 104 largest urban agglomerations.
In the final days when I was preparing for this article, I happened to bring up the topic of the road development with a driver whose services I frequently use. What he told me confirmed once again, that those propagandists who want to denigrate all things Russian by claiming that progress has been achieved only achieved within the Moscow beltway (or perhaps sometimes also allowing for the centers of a few more major cities) are dead wrong. The driver told me, that even in the small village from which he hails in the Nizhny Novgorod Region (Novomochalei, Pilninsky area) they have in the last few years seen remarkable road improvements. The three main roads of the village have now been paved with a solid surface of asphalt, only one of them which previously was paved. They also received two new quality bridges. He also told that the road from the village to the main town of the area is of a completely satisfactory quality.
Maps show how the expressway network has developed over the Putin years
The below maps illustrate the development of Russia’s expressways before 2000 and after Putin took charge of Russia.
MAP 1. Russian Expressways by 1999
There were 365 km of expressway by 1999.
MAP 2A. Russian Expressways by 2018 (European part)
By 2018, 2054 km of new expressway were built
MAP 2B. Russian Expressways by 2018 (Asian part)
The 2165 km Amur highway from Chita to Khabarovsk
MAP 3. Russian Expressways by 2024
By 2024, an additional 5029 km of new expressway will be built.
PHOTO EXCURSION TO SOME OF THE ROADS
Now, let’s take a look at some of the new roads and those under construction.
The MKAD, Moscow Outer Ring Road
The Moscow Ring Road was the first modern expressway of Russia, and one of the three expressways that were in place before Putin ascended to the presidency. The road has undergone major improvements in the last eight years after Sergey Sobyanin became the major of Moscow.
The rule has been that literally all roads in Russia lead to Moscow and the Moscow Ring Road is the high road where they all come together. This has naturally led to enormous pressure on this artery. Therefore, a new ring road due for completion 2021 – the ZKAD or Moscow Region Central Ring Road spanning 525 kilometers around Moscow further out through Moscow Region (Moscow Oblast) – is set to remove the congestion from the Moscow Ring Road and divert traffic away from the city.
If we include the horseshoe shaped central Moscow Boulevard Ring in the count, then the Moscow Region Central Ring Road would be the fifth of in total seven Moscow ring roads. It is of paramount significance for all further road developments in Russia and the modernization of the entire Moscow region.
Most of the long awaited Moscow-Saint Petersburg expressway (M11), a stretch of 543 km, has been made operational by 2018 and the remaining 141 km will be delivered in 2019. This expressway, once fully opened in 2019, will be the most modern of all Russian roads.
Saint Petersburg Ring Road
The construction of the 142-kilometer long Saint Petersburg Ring Road started in 2001 and the road has been gradually taken into use year by year up to 2011 when the full circle was completed with opening of the 24.5 – kilometer stretch reaching over the Saint Petersburg Flood Dam. The Expressway over the Saint Petersburg Flood Dam has a drawbridge (1,079 meters) for allowing ships to get through. That one is mainly there in reserve, whereas at the main pass for ships the automotive traffic is organized through a 2-km long undersea tunnel keeping the ship passage open all the time.
Saint Petersburg will also after 2020 get a 122-kilometer beltway in form of a semicircle deeper in on the territory of the neighboring Leningradskaya Oblast.
M4 Don Expressway from Moscow to Krasnodar
The M4 Don expressway – Russia’s main North-South transport axis – is a 1542 kilometer long road from Moscow to Novorossiysk at the Black Sea coast in the Krasnodar Region. On the road, it proceeds through the important cities of Voronezh, Rostov-on-Don and Krasnodar. By 2018, 746 kilometers of the road were up to expressway standards, the remaining 796 kilometers should be brought up to speed by 2024.
Further from the M4 Don at Krasnodar a connecting road leads to the Crimean Peninsula. By 2022, that 150-kilometer road up to the Crimean bridge will be reconstructed as an expressway. From the end point of M4 at Novorossiysk another expressway will be drawn to the Crimean bridge.
The Crimean Expressway Tavrida
After the liberation from Ukrainian occupation, Crimea is undergoing a veritable infrastructure boom. The latest addition is the first stage of the Tavrida (Taurida) expressway, which was opened in December 2018. This is a road that Crimeans could not even dream about under the Ukrainian occupation. One more stretch of the Tavrida expressway opened in February 2019 as a 10-km bypass road of the regional capital Simferopol.
Crimea is one of the big winners in Russia’s road building drive. Already in 2018. the magnificent 19-kilometer bridge – Europe’s longest – was opened for traffic. Now, all the connecting roads on both sides are being upgraded. In addition to the connections from M4 on mainland Russia, Crimea itself is experience a massive road construction boom. There will be the already mentioned Tavrida from the bridge at the Kerch Strait through Simferopol all the way to Sevastopol. Further, another expressway will go – by 2020 – from Simferopol up to Yevpatoria and further to Mirny so as to serve the nearby new Russian navy base, which will enhance the defense of Crimea and all of Russia.
In order to ease the transition, the Tavrida is being opened in stages. For now, the road from Kerch to Simferopol only operates one lane in both directions, while the other two lanes are being completed, but all the overpasses and access roads are already in place. The expressway should be fully operational all the way to Sevastopol by 2020.
The Meridian Expressway
A truly groundbreaking project is the Meridian expressway, a 2,000-kilometer four-lane expressway through Russia from its border with Kazakhstan at Orenburg region to the Smolensk region at the Belorussian border. The expressway will form part of a 8,445 kilometers long transcontinental expressway from Shanghai all the way to Hamburg thus connecting the project with China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road transport and logistics initiative to which Russia now fully adheres. The Chinese and Kazakh stretches of the expressway are already completed and in use, while the Russian part is expected to be delivered by 2020. The project management announced that by this highway the time of delivery of goods from China to Western Europe would take only 11 days, which compares favorably with the 80 days it takes by sea.
In addition to greatly enhancing Russia’s foreign trade and strategic cooperation with China, the Meridian expressway will give an enormous boost to the development of all the Russian regions through which it cuts. These are all regions which are not rich in natural resources or agricultural powerhouses like the Southern regions. (The Russian Rust Belt, if you will). So far, those regions have also suffered from poor connectivity lacking proper motorways. The Meridian will not pass immediately by any of the major cities of the regions, but many a regional center will be just 100 to 150 kilometers off it and therefore receiving the direct benefits from this superhighway. These include cities with 300 thousand to one million inhabitants like: Orenburg, Samara, Saratov, Volgograd, Tambov, Voronezh, Lipetsk, Orel, Kursk, Bryansk and Smolensk.
Moscow – Kazan Expressway
One more much awaited road is the 729-kilometer superhighway toll road from Moscow through Nizhny Novgorod to Kazan with expected completion by 2023. This road is in the future also planned to be connected with the highway to Shanghai through Kazakhstan by way of extending the expressway from Kazan to Orenburg. Kazan may be considered as the gateway to the Urals and into Siberia, which also heightens the importance of this road. Therefore, we hope this expressway would soon be expanded further to Yekaterinburg. That would really able to connect the whole European part of Russia in a modern network of roads.
Sochi – Dzhubga Expressway needed to build a Russian Riviera on the Black Sea coast
Sorely missing from the approved road development plan is the project to build a new expressway from Sochi to Dzhubga, westwards from Sochi. The present road, with only one lane in both directions follows the shoreline through continuous suburban territory. As a result the 170 kilometer distance from Sochi center to Dzhubga will require in the best case four hours, but drivers should be prepared for at least six hours, while it could take even much longer. As this road is the only way out from Sochi to other parts of Russia, Sochi presently remains practically roadblocked from the rest of the country. In the run up to the Olympic games 2014, Sochi received a lot of infrastructure and superb roads, but these only take you from the city center eastwards to Adler and Krasnaya Polyana, the border with Abkhazian and the Caucasian mountains.
There was hope that this road would have been included in the present plan, but the Russian Ministry of Transport maintained that it would be too expensive at a price tag of $24 billion. The new road would be cut through the mountains further up from the shoreline in a 120 km long stretch with 26 tunnels and 32 bridges and flyovers plus a bypass of the Lazarevskoe area and 80 km of access roads. There seems to be hope that this road would anyway eventually be added to the road development plan, perhaps even this year.
Putin has been enthusiastic about developing Sochi into a showcase modern Russian city, but as long as Sochi remains roadblocked like this the city will in no way be able to realize its full potential. It is actually not a question of only Sochi but the whole Russian Black Sea coast. With a proper expressway out from Sochi, Russia could connect that entire coastline from Sochi to Anapa and across the bridge to Crimea to the new expressways already being built there. This would effectively connect one thousand of kilometers of coast from Sochi to Yalta and further to Yevpatoria like a giant version of the Autopista del Sol in Spain’s Andalusia stretching from Malaga via Marbella to Algeciras, or the motorway A8 on the French Riviera. A proper expressway like that would connect the whole Russian Black Sea coast in one enormous recreation and resort are. This would mean a tremendous boost for the region enabling it to be converted into a prime international tourist destination with easy access between resorts, points of interest, amusement parks, aqua parks, best beaches, restaurants. But as long as the highest value visitors are effectively blocked from driving out of Sochi, this will not happen.
Talking about Marbella, Russia should actually build a Marbella or two on that coast. Presently there are not many modern and beautiful resorts or urban centers between the amazing Sochi and Anapa. In between there is actually only one quality resort Gelendzhik, which is a little gem in itself. Most of the area are run-down port towns and unattractive low-value resorts built by Soviet ministries, labor unions and industrial giants and which have not got much investments ever since. These locations are perfect candidates to be replaced by modern resorts.
There’s another planned expressway which is integrally connected with the construction of the Sochi-Dzhubga road, that’s the Kislovodsk-Sochi road. A 334 km road which would go from Kislovodsk in Stavropol region through the Caucasian mountains to Krasnaya Polyana in Sochi. The latter place is where the new road built for the Olympics ends at the ski resort. This road would be very important for connecting the Caucasian regions with Russia’s south and extending the Black Sea tourist wonderland to the beautiful Caucasian mountains and its numerous health spas. But as long as the way out from Sochi westwards is not opened it would not make sense to build that road which otherwise would only worsen the traffic jams down there.
More Awara reports on the Russian economy
In another report in Awara Accounting Russian infrastructure series, you can see all the amazing airports that are cropping up all over Russia: See For Yourself – All the Amazing Airports of “Stagnating Russia.”
No country, save China, has been turning out so many new bridges as Russia. We wrote about those amazing bridges in this report: Putin the Pontiff – Bridge maker.
And here is our latest Awara report on the Russian economy: Russia’s Economy Strong and Stable – Cold War, Arm’s Race, Liberals and Other Challenges.