• 2008-11-26

Latvia's new bridge is a disgrace. It may look nice, punctuating the skyline with its bright orange towers, but the flashy exterior belies a nasty monster of corruption and public misspending.
There is absolutely no reason for Latvia to build one of the most expensive bridges in the world. Police, medical workers and teachers are protesting in the streets over the government's drastic cuts to public spending. Heating tariffs are rising quickly, and many pensioners will be forced to ride out what looks to be a bitter winter with nothing more than a handful of blankets.

And yet the municipal government takes out a massive loan 's one they will not be able to pay back for 20 years 's to work on an overpriced and unjustifiable bridge.
To make matters worse, the bridge is only guaranteed for five years by the construction companies that built it. In their defense, the head of the construction directorate said that the bridge would not have to be renovated for at least seven years. How comforting.

Meanwhile, everyone seems to have forgotten that one of the other major bridges across the Daugava, Salu Tilts, has not been renovated since its construction in the '50s and is in dire need of costly repairs.
But one of the worst parts about the whole project is that it really will not help things very much. Its contribution to diminishing traffic will be almost non-existent until the next two parts of the plan have been brought to fruition.

The three lanes of the bridge bottleneck into one lane at the end, which is sure to result in massive traffic jams regardless of the fact that the bridge is built on the outskirts of the city.
Backers of the bridge claim that it will help ferry trucks from Russia across the Daugava and on to the port. But this will clearly not be possible until they finish constructing another new road leading from the bridge to the port 's a project which will not see any results for a number of years. Not to mention the fact that fears have been raised over the bridges ability to hold a large number of heavy cargo trucks.

It seems clear that there have been at least some people shaving a bit off the top of this project. With Latvia's track record of corruption in major projects such as this, it really should come as no surprise that palms were greased before the construction machinery was.
People have started coming forward with stories of corruption surrounding the project. As reported in this week's Outlook (see story Page 16), members of the construction companies that worked on the project are already looking for ways to launder money.

With the opening of this new bridge, Latvian leaders have once again shown that they are shamelessly corrupt and still have a long way to go to break out of the Soviet city planning mentality.
One can only hope that they are able to work more transparently on some of the other major upcoming construction projects, such as the long-awaited Castle of Light library.