Future of potential Tartu tramline unclear

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A tram in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The positions of Tartu city government are seemingly split about a potential tramline in the city - Social Democratic Party (SDE) representatives want to get a tram running in the next decade, Reform Party would contribute elsewhere.

Tartu deputy mayor Gea Kangilaski (SDE) said that the tramline could be developed in the next decade with EU funding and state aid. The tram would cost up to €400 million and the city would benefit from it if at least 75 percent could be covered from outside sources.

"On the one hand, the tram would save the city financially at the expense of bus traffic. On the other hand, it would allow for people in addition to those already using buses to move around to be involved in the public transportation network. We would have fewer car users. This money that we put into road construction, street maintenance, environmental protection, to compensate for how many cars we have, it is actually immense," Kangilaski said.

Deputy mayor Reno Laidre (Reform) however thinks that the tram would not be cost-effective. To improve the urban environment, more attention should instead be paid to solving light traffic infrastructure and urban sprawl issues.

"A major bottleneck that is limiting us in city development is the increasing number of cars. It growing in the outskirts of the city and in in settlements bordering the city. A tram connection, according to analyses, would unfortunately solve this issue," Laidre said.

Tartu's budget this year is €215 million, which makes the tramline a very ambitious project. Laidre said the project has not been buried due to its ambition, however. Although the general plan does not see a tramline developed, its possible corridor has not been earmarked for other projects either.

"At some point, public transportation in Tartu will be reorganized. We must then take the most recent knowledge, technology and make decisions based on those. The budgetary strategy in the coming years does not see any large-scale projects, whether they are another form of public transportation or a tramline," Laidre added.

Peep Mardiste, board member of the NGO Eesti Roheline Liikumine (Estonian Green Movement), said they offered up tramline idea 20 years ago. Mardiste added that while trams are not a new technological innovation, their stability is a plus. Trams are not as affected by traffic congestion as buses, for example.

"In actuality, we should move much faster than 2030+. Our reality is that the more wealthy our country becomes, the more we will being paying into the EU budget and will not receive facilities from it. The further out this is pushed, the more we are forced to compensate this project from our own pockets," Mardiste said.

He admitted that a tram alone would not solve the city's urban development problems. While preferring light traffic is a good goal, Mardiste says the city does not want to take away space from cars.

"We are developing cycle paths where there is space. We are making nice cycle paths on side streets, suburbs or even out of town. The city has not yet dared go to mid-town with cycle paths. The Riia-Turu intersection - please solve it in a reasonable manner. This would mark a significant solution - that they are bold, they want to and they will do," Mardiste said.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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