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Grigory Pasko: Russia’s Potemkin Roads

russia_roads072810.jpgEverybody has heard of Potemkin villages. They say that during Catherine the Great’s era, many villages were ordered built by Grigory Potemkin in which the only thing real was the facade. Viewed from the front, it seems as though there is a village. But in reality it is impossible to live in it.

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Judging by both personal experience and the research I’ve done, the same thing can be observed in contemporary Russia with the construction of roads. The extremely poor state of Russia’s roadways has garnered a fair amount of international attention in recent weeks. In one article I came across, the author writes that “where heavy demand exists, private companies build toll roads (e.g. the Moscow to St.-Petersburg route). These are already sprouting where traffic flows are heavy and are of much better quality than the state projects. Only people who use these private roads will have to pay for their upkeep, instead of the all-Russian taxpayer. Likewise, where there is little demand for roads, such as the symbolic but unprofitable trans-Siberian route, capitalists will not waste capital.” In principle, the author is right. But not about everything. We should never underestimate Russia’s ability to waste capital.

Recently I saw the construction of an excellent road on the island of Russky. The road, according to the assertion of the official powers, is designated for the inhabitants of the island who will be living and studying there, and will also serve to host the Summit of APEC countries in the year 2012.Anyway, there have always been only a few inhabitants on the island of Russky; there are now even fewer of them. The road from the mainland part of Vladivostok, which will go both along the bridge being built to the island and along the island itself, will lead, in essence, to a dead end: beyond – the sea. But the road is being built with accelerate d tempos. This is exactly one of those “symbolic but unprofitable” projects for Russia. Or is it unprofitable? It is known that the road is being built for state money. But it is likewise known that on the island of Russky the facilities after the conducting of the summit, most likely, will be privatised for … casinos. Having gone into private hands, the facilities, built for state money, will begin to serve new owners. Including the road.«Forbes Russia» cites the following numbers:In May 2008 Vladimir Putin signed the federal targeted programme (FTP) «Development of the transport system of Russia for the years 2010-2015»: for the construction and repair of automobile roads it was planned to allocate 4.3 trnl rubles, the extent of trunk routes of federal significance over this period is supposed to increase nearly by 6000 km, to 27 200 km. The crisis introduced correctives — the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Finance proposed cutting back expenditures for automobile roads in 2010-2012 from 1.4 trln rubles to 580 bln rubles, leaving on average 190 bln rubles per year (410 bln rubles was spent in 2008). In so doing, according to the most conservative estimates, 25% of the funds allocated by the state for road construction is pilfered.The mechanisms of the pilfering have already been described in the Russian press. I will NOT start to cite sources – there are many of them. I will cite the examples themselves. The head of one of the construction companies recounted how he «earns» an additional 30%: «The sand quarry according to the project estimate is situated 100 km away, but we found within 2 km; in the project estimate is envisioned a little construction town, but we brought in little trailers, on the old side but convenient…»Another example. The Karelian holding company «Karelnerud» delivers crushed rock in whole echelons for the construction of automobile roads. «Our crushed rock is much cheaper than in America or in Europe, but what happens? — explains president of the holding company Vyacheslav Smorodin. — We sell, notionally speaking, it for 100 rubles, in [St.] Peter[sburg] it costs 200 rubles. They have added 6% bitumen to it, the mixture costs 1000 rubles already, and if you roll it out as well, then this is already 7000 rubles».There are some completely humorous situations. For example, the situation of the «disappearance» of roads. Perm governor Oleg Chirkunov did not find the road to the airport of Perm, which was supposed to have been built under the programmed «Modernization of the transport system of Russia». «There is no road. More precisely, according to the documents there is one. Built in the year 2004, and the money has been paid. But it doesn’t exist in real life. Disappeared. Melted away», — wrote the governor of Perm oblast in his blog. The local procuracy’s workload has increased.The average cost of the roads that are supposed to be built under the program for the development of the transport system of Russia in the years 2010-2015 comprised $18 mln per km. Right now the cost of 1 km of road in Russia — $13 mln, for comparison: in Germany –$12 mln, in China — $3 mln (see pg. 121). In so doing the quality of a road surface in Russia doesn’t even compare with a European one: nowhere in the world do they repair roads annually (in Great Britain, for example, they implement repair once in 15 years).In July of the year 2009 president of Russia Medvedev signed a law on the creation of the state company «Rossiyskiye avtomobil’nye dorogi» [Russian automobile roads] (GK «Avtodor»). The basic idea — to attract private investments into road construction. GK «Avtodor» will give out contracts and coordinate construction, manage toll federal rights-of-way, which are now actively being built, and control roadside business.That’s the idea anyway. This means, in practice everything will be just the opposite. And the main think – a new state structure has arise, which will only increase corruption.Of the proposals to improve the situation with the construction of roads in Russia I liked for now only one: to give away the concession for the construction of roads to foreigners.Photos: construction of the road on the island of Russky (photos by Grigory Pasko)