By 2030 all intersections on the Tallinn-Pärnu highway must be grade-separated or the European Union will impose sanctions. The Transport Administration estimates that the schedule can be met if twice as much money is invested in road construction.
The Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla highway, or Via Baltica, is part of the European Union's network of main roads. This makes it one of the most significant freight routes in the European Union, beginning in Helsinki and continuing to Prague via the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic states.
Despite its importance, however, most of the route has only one lane in each direction.
Because this is an important highway with heavy traffic volume, Estonia has to make the road safer and bring it in compliance with a 2013 European Union law.
Tarmo Mõttus, head of the Transport Administration's road maintenance department, explained that the road must meet EU standards by 2030 at the latest.
"For example, grade separation is required at all intersections. This implies that there will no longer be any intersections on the highway, where left turns could be possible. It is also critical that there are barriers in the middle of the road so that vehicles traveling in opposite directions do not collide," Mõttus explained.
These requirements apply in particular to the stretch of road between Tallinn and Uulu, where 8,000 to 30,000 vehicles travel daily. Mõttus said that Estonia is entitled to a derogation on the portion of the road between Uulu and Ikla, where daily traffic is less than 5,000 vehicles.
The head of road maintenance said it is not clear what will happen if Estonia fails to meet its obligation to the European Union by 2030.
"Sanctions are almost certainly going to be imposed, depending on the state of the world at the time. Time extensions are possible on rare occasions. Today, however, we must keep searching for additional funds to improve these roads so that we can be more confident that we won't be fined in the future," Mõttus said.
The Via Baltica runs for 179 kilometers from the city boundaries of Tallinn to the Latvian border crossing. 39 kilometers of this entire length have already been constructed as 2+2 or 2+1 roads. The exempted segment between Uulu and Ikla is 50 kilometers long. Another 33 kilometers are funded by the EU, including the Pärnu-Uulu segment, which is expected to be completed early next year.
This means that 57 kilometers of road still require money to meet the EU's so-called TEN-T regulation. Mõttus said that a total of €274 million is required to finish the highway as intended. According to the transport authorities, some three- and four-lane road portions will also need to be rebuilt, costing a total of €79 million.
Mõttus said that in order for the road to be completed by 2030, Via Baltica will need twice as much money in the coming years. According to the current road maintenance plan, this means an extra €50 million a year.
He went on to explain that obtaining EU co-financing for roads is becoming more difficult by the year. So far, Estonia has contributed 15 percent, with the rest coming from the EU budget. However, in the future, Estonia will have to rely on a 50 percent co-financing, as other countries compete for the same funding.
"Opportunities are increasingly scarce, because there is also interest in money to build Rail Baltica, for example, so we are competing with each other," he said.
Moreover, due to Europe's increasing emphasis on environmentally friendly modes of transportation, the likelihood of substantial increases in road funding is low, he added.
The Pärnu-Uulu four-lane road will be completed early next year, following the road maintenance plan. From 2023 to 2025, a three-kilometer stretch of the Sauga-Pärnu highway will be widened to four lanes and, from 2024 to 2026, financing will be available for the construction of the 21-kilometer Libatse-Nurme section.
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Kristina Kersa