Tallinn Mayor: 'Critical' traffic situation to last at least to year end

Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart.
Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart (Center) has called the traffic situation in the capital city over which he presides "critical", adding that city dwellers must be prepared for this to continue through to the end of this year. Several major roadworks projects in central Tallinn have coincided, leading to virtual gridlock at times.

Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, the mayor said: "The situation is critical. This was especially evident on Tuesday, when Filtri tee was also closed, though not as a result of road repairs."

Filtri tee leads to the central Tallinn military cemetery which is home to the so-called "bronze soldier", the focal point of "victory day" commemorations on May 9, ie. Tuesday. The changed security situation has brought this event under even greater scrutiny.

"Today (Wednesday-ed) the situation is a little better, but there is nothing more to do, we must be prepared for the fact that a tense period awaits us, through to year-end," he continued.

There were no alternatives to the current state of affairs, he added, or at least none that would lead to the same, or even more prolonged, traffic issues.

Construction work in Tallinn's Kesklinn in May 2023. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

"I understand how it looks, and I understand that the situation on the streets of the city is dire. But the question is, what alternative do we have? We all understand that the urban space requires a change, particularly in the city center. However, it is not viable to bring about change without closing some streets. In the city center, all these streets and thoroughfares are interconnected in any case, meaning the closure of one street leads to inevitable congestion. We already saw it when we started the work on Jõe and Pronksi streets," Kõlvart continued, referring to the first of the major ongoing projects, which started last fall.

The mayor denied that the chaos was behind Wednesday's announcement that Tallinn Transport Administration chief Andres Harjo had resigned.

"At least it is not directly related. We have thanked [Hajro] for his work, but we must also recognize that the structure and the systematic work of the Transport Administration need to be brought up-to-date. There is a great deal of room for improvement here. Among other things, we must realize that this work also affects everyday life on the streets of the city. There is plenty of room for improvement, and we expect the new head of the agency to be able to set up a new system."

The only alternative would have been a much lengthier, four-year time-frame in which to carry out the present work, but this would not have alleviated things much, in addition to taking much longer to complete, the mayor said.

Construction work in Tallinn's Kesklinn in May 2023. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The use of external financing also has its effect, as this brings fixed periods in which work must be carried out.

This meant that two of the largest projects, Jõe-Pronksi mentioned above, and the extension of the capital's tramway system to the Old City Harbor, had to coincide.

The first of these had started later than hoped, due to procurement issues, he added, while holding off on the second could have endangered external funding.

While the worst period is to last to around the end of this year, the mayor said, disruption can be expected for a two-year period overall.

The tramline extension work affects Laikmaa, which runs parallel to and a couple of blocks away from Jõe and Pronksi – in other words to major north-to-south thoroughfares are closed simultaneously, which has had a knock-on effect on traffic and public transport; even pedestrians are having a harder time navigating their way round the city center.

Construction work in Tallinn's Kesklinn in May 2023. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In addition, a major project in Tondi, just South of the city center, has just got underway, while to the west, the reshaping and extending of Vana Kalamaja, linking the neighborhood of that to the gates of the Old Town, has been ongoing for several months.

Liivalaia, a major east-west thoroughfare, will see disruption as district heating company Utilitas lays down new pipelines, it was announced yesterday.

Various detours, reduced lanes, temporary traffic lights and re-routed public transport services are in place.

Other smaller projects, such as the development at Liivalaia 9, have contributed to the whole, while related incidents such as a gas pipeline ruptured in the course of the Jõe street work have not helped.

Mayor Kõlvart added that the city's environmental and public utilities board is also in a state of flux, since the new head is concurrently juggling with several major projects as well as the restructuring of the agency itself.

Center is in office with the Social Democrats at city government level, having had many years of ruling in isolation, until the October 2021 local elections. Center performed poorly at the March 5 Riigikogu election this year, while Mayor Kõlvart also launched a leadership bid, which was in the meantime headed off by Center's current leader, Jüri Ratas.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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