ERR in Latvia: Via Baltica-bottlenecking Salacgriva Bridge to be replaced

Salacgriva Bridge in Latvia.
Salacgriva Bridge in Latvia. Source: Google Street View

Five kilometers south of the Estonian border in the coastal Latvian town of Salacgriva, a narrow, bottleneck-inducing vehicular bridge carrying the Via Baltica over the Salaca River is slated to be replaced. Should the EU agree to provide funding for a new bridge, the rest of the bill will be footed by Limbazi Municipality and the Latvian state.

Anyone who has ever driven from Tallinn to Riga has surely cursed Salacgriva Bridge. It's in such poor structural shape that only one-way traffic is permitted at a time, keeping distances of 30 meters between vehicles.

Whenever either Tallinn or Riga hosts a major event, drivers end up backed up for quite some time behind traffic-regulating traffic lights. The flow of traffic here is nearly uninterrupted.

Via Baltica may be an important major international highway, but the bridge through Salacgriva and spanning its namesake river nonetheless belongs to the local government. Said local government, in turn, doesn't have the money to either renovate the current bridge or build a new one.

Limbazi Municipality, and Salacgriva Municipality before it, has offered the bridge to the Latvian state, but the state doesn't want it. Other bridges exist traversing cities along highways as well.

The Ministry of Transport, however, has urged the local government to do something about the old bridge.

"We've been negotiating over this bridge for 12 years already," Limbazi Municipal Council chair Dagnis Straubergs told ERR.

"The local government commissioned an expert assessment ten years ago already, which concluded that it would be more economical to build a new bridge," Straubergs noted. "Of course it can carry a tank or Soviet-era gazik or bus, but the bridge isn't designed to withstand this type of traffic density."

"In other places where local governments receive support for the maintenance and upgrading of transit streets or bridges, they're able to cope with managing the property they own," said Dins Merirands, deputy state secretary at the Ministry of Transport. "It's difficult for me to say why that hasn't been the case here."

The most recent expert assessment of the bridge was conducted in 2020; another must be carried out this year as well.

"Right now, the bridge spanning the Salaca River doesn't comply with any EU or Latvian standards, and traffic on the bridge must therefore be restricted," explained Andris Zunde, who represents Salacgriva on Limbazi Municipal Council.

It's these restrictions that have given rise to the current traffic management situation. Another option would be to ban heavy truck traffic from the bridge, but no good alternative route for the latter currently exists, and this would complicate operations at the local commercial port in town.

Limbazi Municipality is seeking funding from the EU's military mobility project. Should their application be approved, the hope is to start work on the construction of a new bridge next year.

"Construction of a new bridge will cost €18 million," Straubergs said. "We plan on submitting our project application to Brussels by September 21."

According to Merirands, the Latvian government may thereafter allocate half the funds needed to cover the project's own contribution.

There is enough land in Salacgriva for the construction of a bypass to the bridge, but experts believe traffic loads aren't yet high enough to justify that option, and the Rail Baltica railway project is expected to significantly reduce commercial traffic along the highway.

In the meantime, new traffic lights ordered from Germany have been installed at either end of the bridge which automatically gives the green light to the side with more cars waiting.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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