Transport agency chief: Road construction short hundreds of millions

Priit Sauk.
Priit Sauk. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Estonia is short some €100 million for road construction this year, while current plans would see the deficit keep growing for the coming years, Transport Administration Director Priit Sauk said. Estonia hopes to make use of the EU military mobility grants to construct three €80-million overpasses.

"If Estonia's roadbuilding budget is set to shrink by a third this year compared to 2022, current plans would see that reduction grow to 50 percent next year and by 50 percent again the year after that. We will need an extra €100-150 million in the coming years," Priit Sauk, director general of the Transport Administration, said on the "Otse uudistemajast" webcast on Wednesday.

Sauk pointed to the current coalition's decision to stop the construction of four-lane highways from the capital to Tartu, Pärnu and Narva.

The director said he hopes this situation will not stand. "I very much hope this will not be the case. We are trying to have a dialogue with politicians and sector participants." Sauk suggested that PM Kaja Kallas has said she is aware of the €100-million hole in the roadbuilding budget and that funds are being sought to cover it. "It is a matter of political compromises," Sauk admitted.

Past decisions to abruptly slash Estonia's roadbuilding budget have jeopardized eight asphalt plants of which only three or four might survive, Sauk suggested.

He also talked about the time it takes to prepare road construction projects, with plans just completed for sections the construction of which was decided six years ago. "That is reason enough to avoid about-turns in the sector," the director said.

Gaps in funding will make it impossible for Estonia to keep its promise to the EU of constructing four-lane roads in the three main directions by 2030.

Sauk said that 2+1 sections (with overtaking lanes in alternate directions) on the Tallinn-Tartu or Tallinn-Pärnu highways do not count towards the goal as they lack safe (grade-separated) intersections.

Transport Administration betting on EU support

Even though the EU is no longer subsidizing road construction, Sauk hopes the Transport Administration can secure support from the military mobility pot of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) for the construction of three intersections. Estonia's cost-sharing component would come to 50 percent, with Sauk suggesting that the government has promised to come up with the money if the agency secures the EU funding.

The administration is using its employees to help with Rail Baltica design work, mainly bridges and overpasses, as its workload has lessened in line with the reduction in roadbuilding funding.

Nevertheless, the agency's staff has been reduced by 70 employees, Sauk admitted, adding that it is purposeful policy to reduce roadbuilding funding during Rail Baltica construction.

At the same time, the major railroad project is helping the administration weather difficult times. The agency has also offered its services to Estonian Railways that is straightening its tracks and may need to construct new crossings, Sauk added.

Transport Administration head in favor of car tax

Sauk admitted that while Estonia could have more environmentally friendly cars on its roads, how to tax them is a matter of political decision. He said that the agency has made similar proposals in the past, and that he briefed the government on the topic a month ago.

"The choice is up to politicians here. I favor taxing vehicles based on environmental targets and mileage – those who drive more also pay more.

Sauk was skeptical when asked whether toll roads could be an option in Estonia. "I would say that Estonia is too small for this to be a simple solution – there are no great distances and it would cost quite a lot of money to collect the tax. I would favor taxing driving on all roads," he said.

Charging a toll for the use of individual roads could also divert traffic to alternate routes that would then need more frequent maintenance, which is why Sauk said he is not optimistic when it comes to toll roads.

He emphasized, however, that all of these aspects are up to politicians to decide at the end of the day.

Other topics covered concerned air and ferry links between mainland Estonia and the western islands, reform of the agency and staff policy.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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