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Tartu's deteriorating Sõpruse Bridge does not receive state funding

Sõpruse Bridge, Tartu.
Sõpruse Bridge, Tartu. Source: PM/Scanpix

The Sõpruse Bridge (Sõpruse sild), the longest bridge in Estonia, which connects the Annelinn and Karlova districts in the city of Tartu, is on the verge of collapsing, experts say, and repairs should begin immediately. In contrast to what the city had hoped for a year ago, the state did not approve funding for the reconstruction of the bridge.

Since it first opened in 1981, the Sõpruse Bridge, which spans Emajõgi River and Anne Canal, has had no major repairs. The city spent about €1 million in 2013 to repair the most critical parts, delaying the main restoration; however, the bridge engineer Siim Idnurme and other experts believe that the restoration work should begin immediately.

Deputy Mayor of Tartu Raimond Tamme said that the design procurement process is now underway.

"We plan to announce the design tender this year and we hope to sign a contract already this year. The design work would take place next year," Tamm said.

The construction years would be 2024 and 2025. The preparations for the repair of the bridge have taken longer than initially expected, Tamme explained, because it was also important to explore alternatives such as whether it would be more practical to entirely demolish the bridge and construct a new one. Or, for example, to take some parts of it down and replace it with new ones. The issue of whether both sides of the bridge should be open to traffic was also considered.

"Today, it is clear that the bridge will be rebuilt in its current state. There are no plans to demolish the bridge, replace it or take down one part of it. The exact way the space on the bridge will be divided between light traffic and motor traffic has yet to be determined and is still being discussed," Tamm said.

The rebuilding of the bridge is projected to cost around €10 million. The city government of Tartu would like to get assistance from the state, but all past requests have been denied. The Sõpruse Bridge, unlike the Pärnu City Bridge, is not included in the current state budget strategy.

Indrek Gailan, the head of the transport development and investment department at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, said that the government supported the Tartu bridge when the goal was to divert traffic away from the city center. The restoration of the bridge in Pärnu, Estonia, which had previously received funding, had a similar goal. The government funds projects with specific goals, not just bridge reconstruction.

"The government is planning a strategy to promote the use of bike lanes in larger cities such as Tallinn, Tartu and Pärnu. If the Tartu project aims were to be aligned with and increase support for cycling, as the city of Pärnu did, this investment may be worth reconsidering. We will see where these negotiations go in the context of this support agreement," Gailan said.

Deputy Mayor of Tartu Tamm said that the city has not given up on the idea of receiving government funding. "Our first step is to design the reconstruction of the bridge and once we have a project solution and more precise financial estimates, we will approach the state again. It's just a matter of how much of a financial burden this will place on the city's budget and what will be left out of it. We will have to rebuild the bridge anyway," Tamm confirmed.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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