Dec 5, 2013
Russia’s Answer to Broken Roads
Posted on Jun 12, 2012
By Ivo Mijnssen
In recent years, recognizing the economic and political significance of its transportation problems, the Russian government has stepped up its efforts to increase the quality and security of the nation’s roads. It passed a zero tolerance policy on alcohol behind the wheel, and heavy fines deter Russians from drunk driving. From 2010 to 2011, the number of accidents drunk drivers caused thus decreased by 5 percent. Federal and regional governments more than doubled available infrastructure funds from 2011 to 2012, from $11.5 billion to $24 billion. Before 2018, the Ministry of Economic Development plans a further doubling.
Nonetheless, many analysts doubt whether this sum will be enough to keep up with demand. The number of cars on Russia’s roads has always risen faster than state expenditures, and investments measured against the GDP remain small. Although most European countries invest about 4 percent in their transportation infrastructure, Russia spends four times less than that. The U.S. also trails Europe in this regard, spending roughly 2.4 percent in 2011.
Much more serious, however, is the fact that one mile of road is more expensive in Russia than in Western countries. Harsh winters certainly play a role in driving up maintenance costs. Still, experts from the Moscow State Automobile and Road Technical University estimate that 70 percent of investments in road projects are lost due to corruption. Particularly problematic is the monopolization of regional markets for road construction by oligarchies. “Naturally, local companies pay politicians for road construction contracts—a lucrative business for everyone involved,” says Vasilii Il’ich, a local businessman in Tula. However, he notes that an increasing number of national road construction companies in Russia successfully compete in formally open public tenders and refuse to pay bribes.
The results of less corruption are obvious: On our ride through downtown Tula, we drove through a section that has recently been rebuilt, some of it on city, the rest on federal territory. The former was built by a local company, the latter by a national one. The first 600 yards were a veritable obstacle course through potholes; the second section was quite smooth. “The first company stole a lot of money, the second one only a bit,” Il’ich says with a laugh. Russia is thus on its way to solving at least some of its transportation problems. The solutions, however, are not always convincing: When the government had to admit last year that only a quarter of Russian roads met federal standards, it alleviated the situation in character—it lowered the standards. Now, larger and deeper potholes are allowed on Russia’s streets without violating any norms.
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