Government promises billions for highways

  • 2004-07-22
  • By Steven Paulikas
VILNIUS - While the Transport Ministry is putting the final touches on a long-term strategy that will pour massive funds into Lithuania's roads, ports and railways, industry leaders argued that not all the planned projects were necessary for business development.

Ministry officials unveiled their plans for the next 25 years of Lithuanian transport at a presentation on July 15, with a corrected version of the document expected to be submitted to the government by the end of the month.
If approved, the plan would give the green light for investment amounting to as much as a whopping 18 billion litas (5.2 billion euros) in the country's transport infrastructure, with most of the money coming from funds earmarked by the EU.
Acting on the recommendation of experts from the Gediminas Technical University Institute of Transportation Studies, Transport Ministry officials will seek to invest 4.7 billion litas of the total sum in the next three years.
"The fundamental programs to be implemented in the first phase have to do with improving the safety of highways, facilitating transport that passes through Lithuania and bringing the technical parameters of transportation infrastructure up to the standards of older EU members," said Loreta Gromova, director of the project implementation division at the Transport Ministry.
According to Gromova, these initial improvements would also include groundbreaking on Via Baltica and Rail Baltica, the proposed Tallinn-to-Berlin motorway and railway that the Lithuanian government has long been lobbying for in EU institutions.
The advent of such ambitious transportation projects in Lithuania has, of course, been made possible by the promise of ample EU funds. The lion's share of money for transport upgrading would come from EU matching funds, which require as little as a 15 percent copayment by the national government.
Ideas for longer-term schemes include improvements at the Klaipeda Port, which would make it a leading terminal in the Baltic Sea, and facelifts for the country's sagging airports.
But the biggest beneficiary of government largesse would undoubtedly be found not at sea or in the air - but on the ground.
"The vision is not just for easy transit through Lithuania from Riga to Warsaw but all the way from Finland to Germany," Gromova said.
Virginijus Paskarnis, director of the investment policy division at the Economy Ministry, emphasized that enhancing Lithuania's roads was a key point in the national economic strategy.
"Lithuania is a transit country, and we're one of the leaders in transporting goods from Western Europe to countries like Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and even Kazakhstan," Paskarnis said.
Yet in spite of the government's excitement over the grandiose plans, transport industry entrepreneurs view the long-term plan with skepticism.
"I doubt if improving highways will affect us in any way," said Mindaugas Raila, director of Girteka, a transport logistics firm based near Vilnius.
In his opinion, Lithuanian truck drivers transporting goods domestically enjoy some of the best road conditions in the region. "Lithuanian roads are perfect. You can't even compare our roads with the ones in Poland, Latvia, and Estonia," he said.
Raila further asserted that Lithuania's road connections with neighboring EU states Poland and Latvia, which are also slated to receive large investments, are in little need of repair.
"Those connections are great. Repairing them or the other roads won't really help our business at all, except maybe to improve the morale among drivers when they drive on fancier roads," he said.
The government is expected to issue its final opinion on the Transport Ministry's recommendations this summer.