Saaremaa islanders want bridge

  • 2002-07-11
  • TBT staff

Most Estonian residents living either on Saaremaa Island, one of the country's most popular tourist stops, or near it are in favor of a bridge or tunnel to the mainland, according to a recent poll.

About 70 percent of Estonian residents and 85 percent of Saaremaa residents support the idea, according to a survey by the polling firm ES Turu Uuringute.

Most tourists and residents now get to the island aboard passenger and vehicle ferries.

More than 70 percent of poll respondents said they were following the issue with great interest.

Most said they prefered a bridge to a tunnel across the 6 kilometer strait that separates Estonia's largest island from the mainland.

Those opposed to a permanent connection say it would destroy the island's natural charm.

"An island with a bridge is not an island anymore," said one poll respondent.

Others say a permanent connection to the mainland would lead to increased crime.

The issue has been hotly debated in Estonian since 1996 and it's even a part of the current government coalition's formation agreement.

The Estonian Road Administration estimates the construction would cost 1.5 billion kroons ($93.75 million), take three years to complete and about 30 years to break even.

About 195,000 passengers traveled to Saaremaa by ferry in June, a 10 percent increase over last June, according to Saaremaa Laevakompanii, which operates four connections to the island.

Tonis Rihvk, the CEO of Saaremaa Laevakompanii, said the company had expected the traffic increase.

"We're expecting the number of passengers to grow from this year's 1.32 million to 1.4 million a year by 2004," he said.