Roads: much done, little constructed
Datum: 21.06.2011

Roads: much done, little constructed

The authorities of St. Petersburg are trying hard to find alternative methods of fund raising. So far, there are no signs of their willingness to improve the current situation through budgetary financing but rather attempts to make it at the expense of car owners. From the depths of the municipal financial committee there came a bill “On the Road Fund of Saint Petersburg” covering road financing and construction, notably, about a month ago. The fund’s capital will be formed using transport tax, official checkup fee, and penalties. The expenditure scheme is to be defined by the same municipal authorities. Jury Molchanov, Vice-Governor responsible for federal property, and Boris Murashev, Head of the Committee on Transport Infrastructure Development, are the most likely persons to manage it.

Meanwhile, some believe that the sum is not enough to change the existing situation radically. Adequate annual costs for maintenance and new road construction are at least two times higher than proposed, according to experts. As soon as the law comes into effect beginning from 2012, engineering, construction, and maintenance of municipal city roads will be financed from the fund. For this aim, the road fund of St. Petersburg will assign 17.1 million roubles. The figure was announced by the City Committee for Transport Infrastructure Development recently. Previously, financing was conducted through both the Committee and a direct investment programme.

Murashev is sure that road problems of St. Petersburg will be settled by 2015 at such a pace, while the same Committee on Transport Infrastructure Development confirms an unsatisfactory condition of “only” 30% of the total road bed managed by the city. Over the last year, the committee drew 38.6 million roubles. And this year up to 46–47 million roubles are to be allocated for thorough repair, maintenance and construction of roads in St. Petersburg.

A kilometer of a newly constructed standard road costs the city budget from 100 to 200 million roubles. For a dual express road the price tag is about 400 million, and from 600 to 800 million for a kilometer of a modern highway, which is two–three times higher compared with construction costs for perfect European roads.

Let’s compare: construction costs for a kilometer of German autobahn (mind you German!) vary from 5 to 14 million euro. The average price is 8 million or a little more than 320 million roubles. The German experience confirms that with updating road surfacing technologies road construction costs become lower.

On-budget expenditures and road construction dynamics in St. Petersburg

Year Length Put in Operation Maintenance costs Funds assigned, total
2009 3.1 ths km 100 km 3.7 bln roubles 34.1 bln roubles
2010 3.2 ths km 100 km 3.5 bln roubles 40.7 bln roubles
2011 3.3 ths km 100 km 4.6 bln roubles 46.5 bln roubles
2012 3.8 ths km 100 km 4 bln roubles 17.1 bln roubles

Obviously, the claimed volume of road investments for 2012 is significantly lower. Apparently, the question of additional sources for financing under-invested road construction could become topical soon. And it will be even more pressing as RosYama, new online project of an anticorruption blogger Alexei Navalny, has already attracted attention of the Internet audience. Over the last month, more than 300 complaints about the condition of road surface were filed to executive authorities of St. Petersburg.

The main reasons behind a poor quality of road surface remain the same: unreasonable pricing policy and shady issues of the tender system. Road construction companies refer to imperfections in laws and norms guiding this segment. Construction Norms and Regulations (SNiPs) and State Standards (GOSTs) are intended for a traffic flow of 5–6 thousand cars a day while the average number is actually 67–70 thousand of cars. Naturally, the road surface complying with outdated standards wears out faster. Another problem for contractors is poor quality of road designs. “If designers shared responsibility with us, the situation might turn to better. But now the contractor is the one who is always guilty. We follow documentation and, in the end, have to pay for their mistakes,” complains a representative of a road construction company. Having to deal with ageing norms, constructors develop their own formulas for asphalt and blacktop manufacturing. Otherwise, chances are high to fork out money for warranty maintenance. At present, anyone can apply for a road maintenance or reconstruction tender. And such terms are ruinous for all the interested parties. Professionals are left out of business often. And the city does not get its object in time or faces the necessity to repair the road in a year with no one to make responsible for that. Specialised companies have to choose dumping policy and face losses or else lose their work.

There are evidences that dumping reached 30–40% in 2010 at road tenders in St. Petersburg—due to parasitic activities of order chasers with qualification too doubtful for experts. Each year, the scenario is the same. Preliminary selection is clearly needed that would take into account the skill level and previous experience of the executor, unique and innovative technologies that are offered. The Federal Law No. 95 does not provide for qualification selection. As a result, professional bridge constructors are to compete with wholesale traders.

The absurdity of the situation calls for not less than federal-level adjustments. The situation in regions lacking appropriate quality control procedures is even more discouraging compared with municipal road construction. Everything comes down to corruption here while in Moscow and on the banks of the Neva a strictly regulated market is much clearer. “Projects” similar to a “dancing” bridge in Volgograd could come to drivers from St. Petersburg only in their bad dreams (at least, they have got enough reasons to hope for that). At the same time, it is still unclear how the municipal authorities plan to put everything right with costs cut (under the “innovations” banner) and more capacious technologies introduced.

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