Construction of Estonia's main roads at risk after cut in state funding

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

Estonia's four-year €486 million national road maintenance plan was passed on Thursday despite concerns from the construction industry that the budget is half the size it needs to be.

The amount of money allocated endangers the building of major highways, such as those from Tallinn to Pärnu and Tartu which are European TEN-T network roads, by the 2030 deadline, businesses have said.

While planned work will stay on schedule next year, no plans have been made for the 2024-2026 period yet.

The list of state-funded construction projects over the next four years is extremely short, Thursday's "Aktuaalne kamera" reported.

"Now, if we look at next year, there is nothing significant left off that list, but as for the years ahead, 2025-2026, we would have had bigger plans," said the Transport Administration's Tarmo Mõttus.

Veiko Veskimäe, head of the road construction company Verston, said construction volumes will fall in parallel with a drop in funding.

Road unions' protest at Toompea on October 18, 2022. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"Around €228 million this year and €108 million in 2025, a reduction of more than half. This doesn't take into account price increases and inflation, so there is not much left over. There will be no gravel roads built from next year and not very many new roads will be built," said Veskimäe.   

Mõttus said Estonia has plans to build the Tallinn-Pärnu and Tallinn-Tartu highway between 2025-2030, but there is currently no funding for it.

Veskimäe said Estonia has reduced its own financial contributions over the years.

"At one point, when Europe sent their money ships this way, telling us to fix our infrastructure, to help us catch up and to connect with Europe as one of our key markets, we didn't actually do that. We have consistently reduced the level of resources [we contribute]. In essence, we have built all three of these main highways on a very small scale," said Veskimäe.

The state budget set aside €486 million for road maintenance costs until 2026.

Riina Sikkut Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure Riina Sikkut (SDE) said she asked for more.

"My additional request for roads was €823 million over four years, if I remember correctly. We are talking about orders of magnitude approaching a billion, that is for a four-year period. If we look at a longer period, these needs also increase accordingly," she told AK.

Sikkut said increasing funding requires changing the whole system and a loan would need to be taken out.

Narva mayor: Rail is only realistic option

Construction of a new Tallinn-Narva highway was left out of the road maintenance plan. Politicians are not optimistic about its future development.

Katri Raik on "Hommik Anuga". Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

Political parties made promises about building a new road at the last election in 2019, AK reported.

Mayor of Narva Katri Raik said she was one of those MPs.

"Over these four years, things have changed a lot. Narva and Ida-Viru County have become a dead end — the beginning or the end of the European Union, as one would like to see it — and that is why the links are particularly important," she told AK.

Raik said that in 2019, she pushed for the development of a cheaper three-lane road rather than a four-lane 2+2 highway "which was about half the price". These options now seem to be "clearly" off the table, she said.

"And that saddens people here because it is difficult to get around," the mayor said.

"Over the next five years, it will not become clear whether anything will happen or not in the next 20 years, but for now we have to deal with what is realistic and that is rail."


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Editor: Marko Tooming, Helen Wright

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