Ülemiste to central Tallinn traffic tunnel scrapped over lack of funds

The proposed location of the tunnel.
The proposed location of the tunnel. Source: Google Maps

Due to lack of funds, a series of tunnels that had been planned as part of the construction of the Rail Baltic network, will no longer be built. Among those to be scrapped is the only tunnel, which would have connected the central Kesk-Sõjamäe tänav to Peterburi tee. However, urban planner Jaak Adam Looveer says the tunnel is essential to ensure better transport connections between the Ülemiste district and the rest of Tallinn.

In the Ülemiste district, preparatory work is currently underway for the construction of the new Rail Baltic international passenger terminal. The terminal, along with all the necessary infrastructure is being constructed way above the current ground level. The ground there will be filled in and reinforced with concrete walls. Due to lack of funds, the original plan to construct the new railway in a way that would have made it possible to pass freely beneath it, was subsequently abandoned.

Now, however, plans for the construction of the tunnels have been scrapped. Plans for a tunnel between Kantsi tänav and Kesk-Sõjamäe tänav, which would have provided direct access from the Ülemiste district to Peterburi tee, have also had to be abandoned due to insufficient funding. This had been the only one of the tunnels in the original plans, which could have been used by both public transportation services and private vehicles. The tunnel would also have had cycle paths.

Urban planner and architect Jaak-Adam Looveer said that the Ülemiste and airport area is in fact separate from Tallinn and so in urban planning terms is considered to be outside the capital.

"There is a tunnel on Tartu maantee, but then the next crossing point is the Smuuli tee viaduct. The Ülemiste City development area has great potential and significance for the whole of Estonia, as, after all it is an internationally oriented business environment. The airport has an interest in both increasing its number of passengers and expanding significantly, in terms of commercial space. Linking this area to the rest of the city's street network and connections is therefore essential," Looveer said.

Tallinn Deputy Mayor Vladimir Svet (Center) said, that at the point when the tunnels were being designed, there had been a relatively quick realization that neither the city nor the state had the money to build them all.

City officials and experts at Rail Baltic Estonia are now discussing whether to incorporate the openings and structures of the tunnels so-called into the railway embankment, in a way that would then make it easier to construct them in the future. This should become clear in a few weeks' time," said Svet.

Rail Baltic Estonia board chair Anvar Salomets, said that the exact cost of building the tunnel was not known, but it would be in the region of €10 million. Salomets said there was inevitably no need to rush, as raising the ground level would enable tunnels to be dug under the railway relatively easily in the future, even if the terminal itself is already in operation.

Rail Baltic itself has no money to build tunnels. According to Salomets, the City of Tallinn is expected to find the funds in conjunction with the state, however, there have been no signs of an agreement to that end.

According to Vladimir Svet, businesses in the region could also consider contributing to the tunnel, but there has been no visible interest from them in doing so as yet.

"However, Eesti Raudtee is moving its freight station away from Ülemiste, and this large plot of land on the Peterburi tee side of the road will be directly adjacent to the tunnel, so the construction of a transport hub would certainly make this area more attractive," Svet said. 

Urban planner Looveer also pointed out that the narrow Tartu manatee tunnels do not allow for the creation of bus lanes, which would improve public transportation services between Rae municipality, Tallinn Airport and the Estonian capital.

"The new tunnel will allow buses, cars and cyclists to pass easily and conveniently under the railway, linking the area together as a coherent whole. To create bus lanes on Tartu maantee the construction of additional passages is still necessary," Looveer said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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