New coalition agreement puts Saaremaa bridge back on agenda

The possibility of a bridge to Saaremaa may be back under consideration.
The possibility of a bridge to Saaremaa may be back under consideration. Source: ERR

Some of what has been included in the new coalition agreement involves a long-proposed bridge connecting Saaremaa to the Estonian mainland. Namely, the new coalition intends to launch a national designated spatial plan in order to investigate opportunities for the construction of the bridge. While this is not a guarantee that it will be built, at least one entrepreneur hopes the bridge could be built and opened to traffic by 2026.

For a decade or more, the topic of a permanent link across the Suur Väin Strait has been passed back and forth like a hot potato, and while hundreds of thousands of euros have been sunk into various studies, plans to actually build the bridge have still ended up shelved time and time again. The new coalition agreement revealed this month, however, has put the proposed Saaremaa bridge back on the agenda, reported ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Thursday evening.

Entrepreneur Raivo Hein noted that last year, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) was the only party to promise to include the proposed bridge in the coalition agreement should they end up in the government.

MP Taavi Aas (Centre), the coalition's candidate for Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure, stressed that the new coalition has agreed to investigate the matter and clarify how to move forward with it. "Because there has been talk for a long time, but it hasn't led anywhere," he added.

But. just as before, nothing will be built right away.

"First of all, what do Saaremaa and Muhu islanders think?" Mr Aas asked. "From there, if their opinion is positive, then all kinds of studies, a plan, environmental studies. A financial analysis as well, naturally: what would it cost, what would the payback periods be, how would it be possible to finance such a project at all, who wold undertake it? And only then a final decision be made."

No Chinese funding needed

As an entrepreneur, Mr Hein is decisive, and believes that if this is going to be tackled, then it simply needs to be done, with no stalling.

"The government is planning that if the bridge is built, then not before 2032, possibly even later than that," he said. "But we would have it open to use by 2026 —as in with the first vehicles crossing it already."

And unlike the proposed Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel, Mr Hein believes that this bridge could be built without the use of Chinese capital.

"According to our business model, we would raise the necessary equity, after which we could take out a loan already," he described. "And later, when the bridge is complete, we could also refinance the loan if we list the bridge company. This means that all of the Estonian people, but also people from elsewhere in Europe, would comfortably and calmly receive a long-term and stable investment. And so there is no lack of money."

The number of people to travel across the Suur Väin Strait has grown some 4% every year, totalling 1.7 million in 2018.

Editor: Aili Vahtla

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