Road building in next few years to be based largely on EU funds

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Construction work on the Kose-Võõbu road section on the Tartu highway. Source: Maanteeamet

The government has not found additional funds in its state budget strategy for the construction of roads, including the much-vaunted widening of existing highways from two to four lanes, over the period 2022-2025. Only European Union funding of €159 million earmarked for this use, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Monday night.

The announcement follows claims that in any case, should too much in the way of domestic funding be ploughed into roads and other infrastructure projects, when joined with EU funding the economy would run the risk of overheating.

Justice minister Maris Lauri (Reform) says that state budget investments would be likely to commence in the period 2026-2027, with not a cent to be added to road construction in the upcoming state budget strategy.

The annual state budget itself is announced at the end of each year.

Meanwhile, economic affairs minister Taavi Aas (Center) said that the EU funding due to Estonia for the period until then will be the sole significant source of road-building money.

Aas told AK that: "We have additional funds coming from the EU, namely €159 million being the amount available. As for any additional sums, it is my earnest hope that we will return to this issue in the autumn."

Projects whose additional funding was received last year will be completed in the period 2023-2024, after which road construction projects can also move forward.

Four-lane roads (i.e. two in each direction for the most part) on Estonia's main highway system is a long-cherished goal for many politicians and others, and would see such a set up on the main roads radiating from Tallinn and linking the capital to Paldiski and the west of the country, Pärnu and the southwest, Tartu and the southeast, and Narva and the east. Highway-widening work has been ongoing on some stretches, for instance on Tartu mnt.

The putative deadline year for completion of these projects is 2025.

The coalition deal signed between Reform and Center in January included a point whereby progress towards this goal would be accelerated, but in reality this is not likely to go much beyond planning stage in the immediate future, even by the coalition's own admission.

In a recent interview with ERR, justice minister Maris Lauri also said that Estonia is set to receive so much in investments from the EU in the years 2024-2025, particularly in roads and in the Rail Baltica high-speed link, that domestic spending must be reduced to avoid overheating in sectors including construction.

The strategy plan for the next four years is to be completed and confirmed by or on Thursday; Reform is focused on cutting costs and proceeding with caution, particularly given the concurrent major rail link project.

Maris Lauris told AK Monday that: "Let's not forget about Rail Baltica, which means very large construction volumes. We will use EU money there, but maybe when the cash flows from these EU funds start to fall, we will then gain momentum via our state budget funds."

The cabinet may return to the question again in the fall, when discussions on the 2022 state budget will take place.

Maintaining existing roads budgeted at €325 million for this year

At present, €325 million is earmarked towards road maintenance this year, ERR's online news in Estonian reports, after which it will fall year to year, ending up at €209 million in 2024, though this figure is less set in stone, the Transport Agency (Maanteeamet) says, and depends on various factors.

The long-term road maintenance plan for 2025-2030 is budgeted at over €400 million.

Private sector road maintenance and construction firms also have their own input on what budgets should be and what work is in theory needed.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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