Two-lane highway work in Estonia may not be finished until 2050

An already-open two-lane stretch of the Tallinn-Tartu Highway.
An already-open two-lane stretch of the Tallinn-Tartu Highway. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Uncertainty over funding in the state budget strategy for the next few years means full construction of two-lane highways between the capital and Estonia's second and third cities, Tartu and Pärnu, by the original schedule of 2030, is in jeopardy, with some sections potentially not built until 2050, ERR reports, after making a freedom of information request on the relevant documentation.

The two-lane stretches are being built in segments, with some already functioning and open to traffic, though in some cases 2+1 (ie. two lanes in one direction, one in the other) sections have been or will be constructed, while other infrastructure projects, most notably the planned Rail Baltica high-speed link, itself also subject to delays, also complicate the picture.

The draft for the state budget strategy 2023-2026 (known by its Estonian acronym of RES) includes entries on the Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa and Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla routes – the terminal point in both cases are on the Estonian border – says current funding and concerns about future funding mean the highways may very well not be completed by 2030

The draft RES 2023-2026 was previously marked for internal use only. However, following an appeal by ERR this draft has been made public.

The draft of the National Road Maintenance Plan 2023–2026 was previously marked as AK, i.e. a document intended for internal use, after the ERR's appeal, the draft was also made available to the public

Both highways are part of the Trans-European Transport Network TEN-T framework, while very low traffic frequency on the Uulu-Ikla section of the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla highway, and on the Ülenurme-Luhamaa section of the Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa highway, have led to a request to the European Commission to extend the deadline for the proper construction of these sections to 2050.

As of year-end this year, the Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa road meets the requirements set out in the regulations to the extent of 39 percent, while for the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla the extent is met to 22 percent.

The road maintenance plan component of the RES 2023-2026 says state roads need €200 million annually to meet their existing conditions and/or to se conditions improved somewhat, but during the next four years, an average of €100 million per annum will be available for maintenance work,  meaning in actuality a deterioration of the conditions in the following years.

Furthermore, restoring road conditions works out significantly costlier than maintaining existing conditions, which much be taken into account in the RES draft.

A reduction in investments will also significantly hinder the fulfillment of goals set in the transport and mobility development plan as well as the road safety program, including in efforts to reduce road traffic accident fatalities and serious injuries, as well as, for instance, dust-free surfaces on those rural roads which are currently gravel.

The RES draft also outlines the use of EU funding in the coming years, with €159 million due from the EU Cohesion Fund for the period 2021-2027. This grant will be used for some four-lane construction work on the Tallinn-Pärnu highway, as well as for a 2+1 section on the Tallinn-Tartu highway however, as well as on an intersection at Harku, on another highway (Paldiski mnt).

As of the start of 2022, public roads in Estonia total 16,662 km, of which 1,605 km (9.5 percent) are major highways, 2,408 km (14.2 percent) are basic roads, 12,515 km (73.9 percent) are secondary roads and other public roads, and 134 km (0.8 percent) consist of ramp-ways and connecting roads.

Additionally, cohesion funding is to be used in the planned high-speed Rail Baltica construction, which will include intersections where the route crosses highways, to the total of €30 million 2022-2024, along with €5 million towards the Kanama viaduct on the planned Tallinn rail bypass.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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