Priit Sauk, director general of the Estonian Transport Administration, tells ERR in an interview that there is no money in the budget for constructing four-lane highways to Pärnu and Tartu by 2030 and that not a single kilometer of gravel roads will be paved in the coming years.
How much money will be allocated for roadworks in next year's state budget?
I would took at the entire road maintenance plan. We had a little over €200 million this year and will have to make do with around €160 million in 2024. We were allocated another €10 million in the recent draft budget, while our resources will still drop by 20 percent compared to 2023.
Road construction has also become more expensive, with our total construction volume to be cut in half.
We have promised to develop the Tallinn-Tartu and Tallinn-Pärnu highways, which are part of the international TEN-T network, [to have four lanes] by 2030. Has it become obvious we will not be making the deadline?
Construction will continue on a number of sections because we also have EU structure fund money. For example, we will launch construction on the Libatse-Nurme section.
But whether we will make good on our pledge by 2030? The answer today is definitely not as we have not been allocated sufficient resources. Unfortunately, I dare not speculate when we might have four-lane highways going all the way to Tartu or Pärnu.
Will EU money be used for the Libatse section?
Indeed. There are other measures. A few weeks ago, we applied for funding for three main highway sections from military mobility pots. Two of those sections are on the Tallinn-Pärnu highway and one on the Tallinn-Tartu. Whether we'll be successful will become clear in the first months of next year.
What about smaller roads? We have a plan for paving over gravel roads.
No money will be available for that in the coming years.
There will not be a single kilometer paved?
There is nothing in the budget for it.
What will become of Estonian roads if we keep this up?
Drivers are likely to perceive worse road conditions.
The Transport Administration is doing everything in its power to make sure traffic safety is not impacted. Road markings, winter road maintenance are things where we will not give an inch.
Of course, we would also like to preserve road surfaces. We're pulling a so-called Estonian Nokia by resurfacing roads, which is cheaper than repairing or reconstructing them.
But we are still short on funds to maintain the top layer of asphalt. Drivers will feel more grooves and bumps in the future, or indeed pot holes and sink holes, which will become a regular part of driving in the coming years.
I am forced to admit that if we factor in price advance, roadwork volumes will drop by half compared to 2022 and 2023. It is still our position that roadbuilding is short around €100 million annually in Estonia. That is how much more money we would need to maintain our roads and engage in moderate development.
The EU is moving away from supporting road construction and is rather backing railroad infrastructure. Will we be forced to rely solely on taxpayer contribution in the future?
It is true. The railroad is a less polluting compared to car transport. Estonia has also decided to bet on rail construction.
The other reason is a tight budget, which is why road maintenance will be paid little attention in the coming years. But even as our vehicles get more environmentally sparing, they will still need roads to drive on. Maintaining and developing the road network will continue to be important in the future.
How much attention does the Transport Administration pay to bicycle paths? Or are those purely the business of local governments?
The focus is definitely on local governments and major cities. Where we come in is when there is potentially a lot of cyclists around or between big cities, we'll also build bicycle paths when we reconstruct such roads. /.../ We build them as part of larger projects, while as I said, there won't be too many of the latter in the coming years.
Editor: Marcus Turovski