RIGA - The government has agreed to set up a new task force to tackle congestion on the Latvian-Russian border and facilitate the development of transit and logistics. The working group, headed by Transport Minister Ainars Slesers, will include representatives from the transport, finance and foreign ministries, the State Revenue Service, Latvijas Dzelzcels (Latvian Railway), the State Border Guard, as well as the port administrations of Liepaja, Riga and Ventspils.
Interior Minister Ivars Godmanis said there was no quick solution for the problem, and the main task is to arrange a border transit infrastructure. Slesers said the long lines of trucks on the Russian border proved that Latvia faced serious problems with logistics, and a more effecient system should be developed.
The task force must submit its proposals for easing the situation by Feb. 19, 2007.
Congestion on the Latvian-Russian border became such a problem that on Dec. 18 local authorities in Latgale asked the government to place a higher priority on security at the Latvian-Russian border.
"Security is the most important issue right now," Ludza regional council head Juris Dombrovskis told the Baltic News Service, adding that it would be necessary to reinforce roadside barriers to prevent road accidents. Colder weather and snow expected has exacerbated the situation at the border.
In Dombrovskis' opinion, road care is the government's responsibility, not the city's. "Local authorities will maintain municipal roads and provide cleanup work," he said.
The Transport Ministry has been required to set up bio-toilets, trash bins and warning posters along roadsides near the Latvian-Russian border and has until March 1 to announce a tender for the reconstruction of a new stretch of highway.
The Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, has a March 19 deadline to organize a high-level trans-border conference involving ministry representatives from Latvia and Russia, as well as European Commission members.
The government also decided to talk to Russia about opening another border crossing point at Vientuli for trucks, and possibly one more at Aizgarsa.
Ludza authorities are planning to send police reinforcements to Latgale, as traffic flow is expected to increase during the last days of the year.
The growing lines on the Latvian-Russian border became a notable problem in mid-August this year. The backup is a threat to traffic safety, as waiting drivers throw heaps of litter on the roadside and the stalled trucks block much of the highway. What's more, the nearby population has to live with the constant drone of truck engines.
On Dec. 12, the government allocated 100,000 lats (142,000 euros) to Ludza municipality for solving the problems.
There were over 1,600 trucks waiting to cross the Latvian-Russian border as of Dec. 18, the Latvian National Border Guard reported.
Though increased trade is a factor for the growing lines, the main reason is Belarus, where new customs rules have frightened off Lithuanian and Polish haulers.