The planning process for a fixed connection between the mainland and the islands of Muhu and Saaremaa is progressing as planned, and studies to find out the most suitable route will be launched at the beginning of next year, Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said on Thursday.
Public discussions on the designated spatial plan are underway at the Ministry of Finance in order to get feedback from local communities on the initial planning outline and to map the aspects related to the fixed link that residents highlight most often.
Aab said that necessary resources have now been found in the state budget to move forward with the surveys in the years 2022-2023.
"Our aim is to initiate, in cooperation with experts, local communities and businesses, all the necessary studies and, after they have been carried out, to make a decision based on real up-to-date data, not emotions and assumptions," the minister said.
As this is a very large-scale and high-impact project, it needs to be taken into account that the whole process takes time, Aab said. Given the importance and scale of the undertaking, this is a project of the century, where every aspect needs to be carefully considered.
"How to organize trade exchanges for Saaremaa and Muhu, which are growing by 10 percent every year, in 2030? How does a fixed link affect the island identity of locals? Do we also need to look to an alternative route that would direct transit passengers past the center of Muhu? These are complex questions, but without answering them, a comprehensive picture cannot be obtained to assess the necessity of the project," the minister said.
The feedback collected during the display of the initial planning outline shows that the people of Saaremaa, Muhu and Pärnu are most interested in the type of the fixed connection, its architectural solutions and the financial feasibility of the undertaking. There is also interest in the research plan and further steps of the project.
By the end of the first phase of the national designated spatial plan for the Suur Strait fixed link, by 2026, the best route alternative and the type of fixed link will be determined, and work will then continue in the detailed planning phase, meaning the second phase. Depending on the findings of the studies and the environmental impact assessment, it may still be revealed by the end of the first phase of the study that a ferry link is nevertheless the best long-term solution for connecting the island of Muhu and Saaremaa, the biggest island of Estonia, with the mainland.
The national designated spatial plan for the fixed link has reached a stage where the initial planning outline is being set out, meaning an overview of what activities and research are needed in order to give a final assessment of the possibility of establishing a fixed link.
Plans for a bridge have been touted for years. One of the main questions has been funding, with the possibility of using Chinese capital having been on the table in recent years, as well as that from companies both local and international.
According to an analysis made by the Road Administration, residents of Saaremaa and Lääneranna support a bridge or tunnel over Suur Strait. The residents of Muhu Municipality however do not support the plan.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste