Vladimir Svet: City cannot prevent temporary closure of Liivalaia tänav

Will there be light at the end of the Tallinn city center roadworks tunnel?
Will there be light at the end of the Tallinn city center roadworks tunnel? Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

In an interview with ERR, Vladimir Svet, deputy mayor of Tallinn, acknowledged that the city could do a better job of managing traffic during road construction, but he also criticized laws that limit municipal governments' ability to say no to private infrastructure work.

Is the congestion and confusion in Tallinn's city center the final straw for Andres Harjo, the outgoing head of the Tallinn Transport Department?

The resignation of Andres Harjo is based on an agreement between him and the city administration. The transport administration faces significant challenges and I am not referring to major construction projects, but rather a new mobility plan: increasing the proportion of public transportation and reorganizing the network of roads.

Andres has been in command of the department of transportation for 16 years, but we need someone with new energy and a fresh perspective now. We owe him a great debt of gratitude; it was under his stewardship that free public transportation was implemented.

His contribution to Tallinn's public transportation is indisputable, yet this public transportation is at the moment standing still in the heart of Tallinn. Did you really not criticize him for this? Was the construction preparation and traffic planning thoroughly thought out?

I did not say that what is happening is good. There are numerous lessons to be learned here. The most important of them is the realization that, for such large-scale projects, it would be prudent to commission interim traffic management evaluations prior to tendering. To make traffic management in Tallinn's downtown more pedestrian- and public-transportation-friendly, we must revamp roads and streets. Unfortunately, the pandemic period and the outbreak of the war, delayed the implementation of many initiatives. Several contracts were postponed and the construction timetables were delayed. Also, the construction industry itself needs time to recover.

All of this is understandable; Tallinn must be brought into the 21st century. No one is disputing that. However, the builders work at their own leisurely pace, with no weekend work on city sites. I would like to know the name of the person in charge who has now given the go-ahead to close a lane on Liivalaia tänav. Who decided we need to create even more traffic jams now?

I suggest that you calm down a little. The closure of Liivalaia coincides with Utilitas's proposal to install district heating and cooling pipelines in the area. Unfortunately, our legislation makes it impossible to prohibit a network operator from accessing its own pipelines. In reality, the final traffic plan has not been approved. It should become clear towards the end of this week.

So in theory you could still tell Utilitas to postpone the renewal of the piping until, say, autumn?

I am not certain that delaying these street renovations makes sense. We are aware that summer is the busiest season for transportation, but it is impossible to complete this work in three months. However, we have to discuss the need for municipal authorities to have the right to decide when and how pipe owners can repair or replace their pipes.

And for that the law must be amended. To answer your question, however, the transport administration must approve any changes to traffic management.

The city is claiming that construction work on the streets cannot be done in the nights or on weekends because people of the residences next door object. What polls are you basing your claims on? What is the foundation for this assertion?

Our conclusion is based on the assumption that people live in the city center. Residents of downtown deserve quiet nights and the right to be at home in peace. This is not the first, nor will it be the last reconstruction in the city center; residents continually object when we work late at night and on weekends, and I believe they have a good point.

The contractor had to work until 9 p.m. one night on Pronksi tänav, and I immediately began receiving calls from residents complaining that they couldn't be quiet and put their children to bed on time.

Is not there some type of well-thought-out system? It could be, for example, up to housing associations to decide. At the moment, a handful of the most active residents have the ability to influence municipal choices. There will always be people who are upset about the noise, but there will also be others who are upset about the construction work being delayed.

Can the chair of the association put his child to bed at 8 p.m. when the machines are rumbling in front of the building? I could ask rhetorically in response to your question.

In order to establish the construction time assigned to the builder, the city must follow the Public Procurement Act. We estimate how long the construction work will take by hiring engineering firms and writing this into the tender. We then utilize the tender to select a company that says it is willing to build at that price.

This debate will never come to an end; for example, would we be willing to close all of the connections on Pronksi tänav to complete the work within two months? Would we be willing to pay 30 percent more for construction work if it could also be completed in the evenings and on weekends?

There is a systemic issue with public sector construction procurement in Estonia. You must accept the lowest bid because you are in a weaker position and cannot force the contractors to proceed faster. In fact, we need a comprehensive review of the issue and, if necessary, a modification in the law.

You are right, the legislation does not favor a flexible approach but at the same time we have to be honest in recognizing that officials need better skills in procurement to take better account of the different nuances, and we certainly have room for growth here.

How much have you involved the municipal police in regulating traffic at junctions?

Rather little; but we are ready to make more use of MUPO and traffic regulators.


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Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Kristina kersa

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