Should Estonia aim to construct four-lane highways between major cities and Rail Baltica by 2030, based on a pledge made to the EU, an acute construction minerals shortage is just around the corner, the National Audit Office finds.
"Estonia would be saved from a deficit of gravel, sand and limestone only by its incapacity to launch the construction of Rail Baltica and by the fading away of road construction activity," Auditor General Janar Holm said when commenting on the results of a recent report.
"Given the National Audit Office's earlier audit reports indicating the drying up of construction investments in the road management plan and the delays in railway construction, this is rather likely. But even with that, it is clear that the quarries currently in use are becoming exhausted and new ones need to be opened," he added.
Estonia has promised to complete the Tallinn-Tartu-Luhamaa and Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla highways under heightened requirements by 2030. The high-quality construction limestone suitable for building roads is primarily found in the limestone deposits in Harju County, where the current supply lasts until 2026 at most. The sand and gravel supplies in Pärnu and Rapla counties are also at a critical level – in the event of the construction of large infrastructure projects, especially the Rail Baltica railroad, the extractable supplies there would also be exhausted before 2030.
Rail Baltica alone, should it be launched, would raise the need for construction minerals between 2023 and 2028 by more than 2.3 million cubic meters compared to the volumes of 2022. In 2022, about 9 million cubic meters of construction minerals are used, whereas by 2027, the construction of roads and railways would raise this volume to 13 million cubic meters annually.
The National Audit Office finds that the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications would do well to look for alternatives should local quarries be unable to service demand, adding that no preparations have been made until now. It adds that the volume of local supplies is not precisely known and that the current supply security principle of using materials no further than 50 kilometers from the construction site should be abandoned.
The economy ministry has estimated that importing the necessary minerals could end up causing the projects to become 40 percent more expensive.
The audit office also concludes that opening new quarries requires much more effective cooperation between the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications and the Ministry of the Environment, as well as municipalities hosting the new mines or quarries that could be offered mining rights fees. The government should also weigh offering compensation to people most affected by mining to hopefully avoid obstacles born out of the so-called not-in-my-back-yard mentality.
Editor: Marcus Turovski