TALLINN - Estonia and Russia's transport minister over the weekend signed a long-awaited cooperation protocol for the construction of a new bridge spanning the Narva River. If built, the much-needed bridge will ease border crossings at the Narva-Ivangorod junction and facilitate improved trade between the two countries.
Economy Minister Edgar Savisaar and Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin decided to review matters related to the location of the new road bridge and border checkpoints, with the corresponding decisions to be made based on viability and environmental studies.
Construction of the bridge and enlargement of the border checkpoint will cost approximately 1 billion kroons (64 million euros).
A timetable will be hammered out by a working group made up of representatives from both countries. The construction of the bridge would be financed by Estonia, Russia and the EU.
"There is no common stance as regards the location of the bridge at this point," Levitin said at a news conference. He explained that while the Russian side was suggesting a southern location, the Estonians wanted the bridge to be built further to the north.
"Each of the sides wishes that the location would be the most favorable for the development of the border region, yet we agreed that we'll take into account the interests of transit in deciding about the location," Levitin said.
Savisaar said the Estonian and Russian ministries had set up working groups that were conducting viability and technical studies. The deadline for the groups to present their conclusion is the fall, he said.
The existing Soviet-era bridge in Narva is no longer able to handle the increasing traffic, with transit vehicles causing noise pollution, vibration and congestion in the city center.
When the present checkpoint between Narva and Russia's Ivangorod was built, its projected capacity was 100 trucks a day; now approximately 400 trucks pass through the checkpoint daily, and trucks have to wait two days to cross the border.
In 2005 the number of cars crossing the border there increased 30 percent and the number of trucks 40 percent in comparison with 2004, with the number of trucks reaching 90,000. It is estimated that the total number of vehicles crossing the border will grow to 300,000 per year by 2010.
Transport Ministry spokespeople said the Tallinn-St. Petersburg road link is one of the most intensively used transport connections between the EU and Russia.
With a new bridge, currently throughput capacity of the border checkpoint should increase severalfold.
Also, the two ministers signed a preliminary agreement on concluding a bilateral railway treaty.
"If the 1992 railway agreements were concluded between ministries, then now we are planning a railway accord between governments," Savisaar was quoted as saying. According to the minister, the agreements signed by the ministries can no longer be observed because both countries' legal environments have undergone major changes and structural changes have taken place in both business and the public sector.