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Commission reviews Saaremaa road/tunnel connection

  • 2006-01-25
  • From wire reports
TALLINN - A commission that has selected two possible routes for a road link between Saaremaa, Estonia's largest island, and the mainland said that completion of the project would likely take place in 2014.

The Postimees daily reported that a bridge would cost at least 2.75 billion kroons (175.7 million euros).

The bridge commission made an important decision last week, narrowing the choice down to two routes. One would run almost side-by-side with the current Virtsu-Kuivastu shipping route, and the other across the northern tip of the small island of Viirelaid.

The panel has still not completely dropped the idea of a tunnel, but provisional estimates show it would cost at least twice as much to build as a bridge. The choice between a bridge and a tunnel will probably be put off until the next decade.

The director general of the Roads Administration, Riho Sormus, said that there is still a theoretical possibility of continued ferry service between Saaremaa and the mainland, though the trend is toward building either a bridge or a tunnel.

Sormus said a thorough analysis of the environmental impact would begin as well as the calculation of actual costs. The location of the bridge will be chosen according to the best balance between the environmental impact and cost, he said.

Acting governor of Saare County, Hans Teiv, said he had been optimistic about the road link project for years but right now it seems the construction will not begin until 2010 and the link could be completed four years later.

The Saaremaa road/tunnel link became particularly topical after a previous government minister was forced to resign after mishandling a deal to renew a contract for ferry service between the island and the mainland, which is subsidized by the state.

Saaremaa has a population of 40,000 and is rich in flora. Its main industry is tourism, which the country wants to develop as an alternative and complement to Tallinn