Deputy mayor promises no roadworks chaos in Tallinn city center next year

Vladimir Svet (Center).
Vladimir Svet (Center). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vladimir Svet (Center) says, that next year will not see a repeat of the chaos caused by the kind of large-scale roadworks, which have been underway in the center of the Estonian capital throughout this summer. Svet added however, that as the government wants to continue upgrading Tallinn's streets, there will be a need for further work to be done in the future.

The way that the roadworks in Tallinn city center are due to be phased out this fall, or put on pause for the winter, has been announced. However, is it clear what can be expected in spring and summer next year?

What we know at the moment is that when we start in the spring - and this is important, because everything can still change - we will continue with the Vanasadama (Old Harbor) tramline, and all the major works [related to that] should be done by next year. Perhaps the most important sections there will be on the other side of Ahtri tänav, the tramway intersection with Mere puiestee,  and definitely the works in the harbor area.

If we talk about the city center, then the plan is for Lastekodu tänav. We are hoping to get the project, and the building permit ready, because all the network operators on Lastekodu tänav want to go in next year to change their pipes. We would also like to create a new street space on the ground, so to speak.

I sincerely hope that in the second half of next year we will have the opportunity to start work on Tulika tänav.

For the whole of next year we will be building the Tondi level crossing. Next year we will build a light traffic tunnel at the junction of Paldiski manatee and Tehnika tänav.

Towards the end of spring we'll start on Peterburi tee from Majaka tänav. We've yet to make any final decisions on what the next stage will be. Whether we will go out of town from the city center, so to speak, or, for example, we will move in parallel from the two ends of Peterburi tee somewhere towards the Smuuli viaduct. 

Regarding the smaller works: these are mainly on streets related to school routes or regional priorities - Varraku in Lasnamäe or maybe Kose in Pirita, around which there is currently a question mark. Maybe Rahumäe tee in Kristiina, which could possibly be postponed until 2025.

In Nõmme, we hope to complete Kerese tänav, Kraavi tänav and Pihlaka tänav along with the corresponding water treatment infrastructure. This is important so that we can move forward with the Nõmme center reconstruction project. We were actually hoping to be able to build this combination this year, however it turned out that more studies needed to be conducted.

In Põhja-Tallinn, we have Ristiku tänav, which is at the design phase. At this stage, I wouldn't be bold enough to promise that we will start construction work on it next year.

And, of course, there are the new buildings in the city center. However, the more important ones are likely to be left for the next few years, because it takes so long to design them.

When the city (of Tallinn) announced a succession of road construction projects last year and then again this year, it came at a time when there was constant concern that prices were rising fast and no one knew how much anything would actually end up costing. The city was even forced to change the tender conditions several times.

Yes, we did include (in those contracts) the possibility of indexing construction prices.

Now that prices have stabilized, has anything become cheaper for the city, as the contracting authority, during the construction? And has anything become more expensive, in the case of Pronksi tänav for instance?

There have been no savings made during these works. And, let's be honest, unless you're building in the middle of a wasteland, there are usually going to be some additional requirements [during the process]: some pipes needing to come out, where perhaps they weren't expected to. There are always unexpected problems that you hadn't thought of. So I wouldn't expect any major savings on these downtown sites. 

However, what we also aren't seeing at the moment are any drastic price increases. What we're seeing is that prices on our tenders, are for the most part, going down by, give or take, ten percent.

At the moment, we think the market has stabilized, at least when it comes to the cost of those materials that may have caused a price differential during the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine. And if we look at the overall situation, whereby the state is scaling back its investments, the city has maintained its capacity to invest, thanks to, among other things, our budgetary discipline - I think that now for us, I'm not saying things are good, but it's a normal situation.

There are more bids for Tallinn contracts because the state is contracting fewer road works?

I'm not an economic analyst and so I can't make that link, but for the most part our tenders don't fail. And most of the time, the tenders come in at a reasonable price.

Instead, we see that the issue we've had concerns over, is that for larger items, the prices are somehow easier to estimate. On a smaller project, the budgeted cost for some urban furniture might be €100,000, but then the price jumps up by €60,000 during the tender. If we are talking about road works costing millions, then €60,000 is not a huge amount. However, if the price increases by more than 50 percent of the budget for one project, then it shows that something interesting is happening on the market.

Excluding the supplementary budget, the budget for roads and streets in Tallinn this year was around €78 million. What are the current indications? Will the amount be the same or higher in next year's budget?

It's a bit too early to say, I wouldn't want to start the budget negotiations with my colleagues through the ERR portal, although that would of course be a great honor.

However, if we look at Tallinn's budget strategy, it cannot be said that the City's plans are limited to the Vanasadama (Old Harbor) tramline, Pronksi tänav and the Tondi intersection.

We have a strategic objective. We want to prioritize public transport. We want to make the city more comfortable and safer for pedestrians and for light traffic in general. We want to upgrade the street space. We want to make school routes safer.

All of this does not simply materialize out of thin air. And it doesn't all come about my making small repairs, but often requires the reconstruction of streets.

Consequently, if these priorities are in our coalition agreement, and if they are in our budget strategy, then it means we will continue to invest in Tallinn's urban space over the coming years.

In addition to this, we know that two very important network operators, Tallinna Vesi and Utilitas, have seen very strong investment confidence this year. In the case of Tallinna Vesi, we have adopted a 12-year plan for the development of the public water supply and sewerage system. With Utilitas on the other hand, we have established a joint district heating company.

We are trying, as far as possible, to go along with them and renovate the street space (at the same time as their works). So, I don't think we are going to be tightening the purse strings when it comes to investments in the streets.

The final decision will be down to Tallinn City Council, and our official investment request (from the budget) to the Urban Environment and Public Utilities Department will not be compiled until mid-September, so it's going to take a while.

Roadworks in Tallinn. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

This summer, the roadworks in Tallinn came in for a lot of criticism, not all of which can be said to have been unfair. It was, and still is, difficult to move around in the center of Tallinn, on foot and by bike too. However, another thing that bothered a lot of people was that, in addition to the major road works, you also made promises regarding smaller infrastructure works on Liivalaia tänav, Tehnika tänav, Rohu tänav and elsewhere, for example. These works also had a big impact on traffic in the city center.

Well, first of all, most of this work will be completed by September 1, and it was a conscious decision that if there were pipes to be dug up, they would be dug up in the summer, when there is considerably less traffic in the city.

And we don't have the right to ban these works outright. We do have the right to postpone them, impose conditions and set deadlines. Some of the work has been delayed at our request, some of the work has been squeezed into a shorter time period.

Ultimately, we are aware that all types of piping and communications repair work entails traffic restrictions. But it is being done [now] because somewhere a pipe is damaged and so there is a real possibility that thousands of people will be left without water and sanitation, as was the case on Tehnika tänav. Somewhere else a gas pipe is in dire need of renewal, as I understand is the case on Rohu tänav. In another place, people have a really strong desire to connect to district heating - I recall that a year ago everyone was talking about how connecting to district heating was almost like a security measure, in terms of our energy security.

All these plans, all these ideas do not simply materialize overnight, and in the end - there are jobs involved too, concrete business plans. The city cannot just throw its hands up in the air and say, that's it, nothing more is going to happen in this city.

So, it is always a case of searching for a balance, and I agree that this balance needs to be better ensured and has to be tilted more in favor of the public interest.

That's why we're currently sitting down with the major network operators every couple of weeks to ensure the plans for next year as well set as possible. We will try to synchronize with them as much as possible in the future.

Of course, that won't always work in every case. There is no reason to think that, the city cannot plan its road works in the same way that the companies, which have the capacity to react more quickly, do. Because it is one thing to design underground pipes, and quite another to design the urban space, discuss it with the local population, get feedback and then develop the visible part, so to speak.

Can you promise, for example, that next year there will not be so much chaos in the city?

I can promise that. I can promise it, if only because this year was exceptional. Perhaps not even in the distant past have we had a situation where so many major highways and intersections were being rebuilt in the city center at the same time. And, of course, I promise you that next year we will not have that kind of volume [of roadworks] in the city center, which will mean things are calmer and smoother for all traffic.

However, I also promise that we will carry on upgrading the streetscape. We will also continue creating better traffic conditions in the city center, and we can't do that without rebuilding the streets.

When will buses start running again from the Viru terminal?

The first bus will be back from September 1. It will be (bus line) 40. The buses will start coming back gradually from the second half of October.

Are Viru Keskus and other businesses in the surrounding area really angry with you?

The only grievance, which I am aware of, was when we urged people not to go through the city center and Viru Keskus said the opposite, encouraging people to go downtown.

I think that both they and other businesses in the area, which are undoubtedly in a very difficult situation at the moment, stand to gain a great deal from the work we are doing. We will bring more public transport there, we will bring more light traffic, which will benefit businesses.

I think that in the future there will be even less car traffic, at least in the Laikmaa-Hobujaama direction. And I think that there will definitely be car traffic on the Viru roundabout, but it will certainly be more pleasant for pedestrians. There will be some landscaping, and the paving will change a little bit, so that there is not just asphalt everywhere.

Has the Peatänav project been abandoned completely?

It has not been abandoned. The Peatänav project is going according to its own schedule, and as we previously promised, this year we will see whether it is possible to overcome the problems that were there beforehand.

Simply put, can we really do it in a way that means we do not have public transport blocking junctions and lines. Personally, I am of the belief that we will be able to resolve these issues by ourselves and then return to this project.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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