New life has been breathed into old plans to span the Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea. Young adventurers invited to Disco in the French Alps. Europe’s most congested cities announced – and the busiest speed cameras in France – plus there’s an end in sight to the Turkey-Bulgaria truck dispute while an annoying bottleneck on the A3 in Luxembourg is to be removed.
NEW BRIDGE ACROSS THE KERCH STRAIT.
Russians very keen to build a bridge to Crimea.
Velvet invasion or not, one of the events ratcheting up the tension yesterday was the seemingly sudden announcement that the Russians were to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait to Crimea.
Most locals knew it had been planned for decades. Still, Prime Minister Medvedev’s declaration was clearly timed as another blow in the psychological battle being waging at the top of the Black Sea.
Last October, even before former president Yanukovych had – formally – decided not to sign the EU agreement, there were reports that the idea had been revived.
A bridge over the Strait was first put forward by Nazi architect Albert Speer in 1943 as the Germans fought in the North Caucasus though they were overrun before it was half built. The Russians quickly finished it off only to see it swept away by ice flows within six months of opening.
The idea came up again after the fall of the USSR in 1991 – backed by then Moscow mayor Yury Luzkhov – and again in 2003. The two countries nearly came to blows after it emerged the Russians were surreptitiously building out to Tuzla Island in the middle of the Strait.
For eight years after that, according to Yanukovych, Ukraine and Russia were in negotiations. Another agreement in 2010 seemed to come to nothing until the ‘exchange of inter-governmental papers’ in October 2013. That was quickly followed by a contract signing in Moscow on 17 December, with the agreement ratified by the Ukraine cabinet at the end of January.
The bridge plans were tightly tied up in the $15bn loan Russia promised to Ukraine at the same time, details that were understandably overlooked by many at the time.
What Medvedev actually announced yesterday was that the state road building company Avtodor will the main contractor via a new subsidiary Avtodora, and that engineering studies will be completed by November 2014.
Whatever happens, the bridge won’t be up and running anytime soon. Thanks to the shifting sands in the Azarov Sea – the major inflow of the Black Sea – it will be a tough technical challenge.
In 2010 the costs were estimated at 24bn RUB (£400m) with a minimum build time of five years.
The 4.5km route is currently served by car/train ferry. It costs less than £20 each way for cars but, according to Hurriyet Daily News, is ‘known for long lines and poor service’.
update 5 March: the build time has been reduced to 3.5 years and the cost increased to 50bn RUB (£830m) according to The Moscow Times today. The cost would double if the bridge also carried trains.
TRAFFIC. Brussels is Europe’s most congested city followed by London, Antwerp, Rotterdam and Stuttgart says the latest INRIX scorecard. The most congested countries are Belgium, Netherlands and Germany. Congestion in general rose for the first time in two years, for the last three quarters of 2013, but still fell overall. FRANCE. A speed camera on the A40 clicked an average 377 times per day last year making it the busiest in France according to new figures. Other hotspots included the A10 near Tours and A47 at Givors. See thelocal.fr for more. BULGARIA/TURKEY. Peace has utterly broken out after 15km truck queues at Kapitan Andreevo-Kapikule border point last month. As promised, the two countries seem to be moving serenely towards an agreement to liberalise freight transport, due to come into effect in April. LUXEMBOURG. The annoying customs buildings across A3 at Zoufftgen near the French border, a regular traffic bottleneck as vehicles are forced to slow, will be demolished. The work will take a year, mainly at night and at weekends.