KHABAROVSK, July 18 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s Far East Development Minister has proposed building a massive bridge from the mainland to the island of Sakhalin in order to turn the island into a “third door to the Pacific.”
“Today there is a shortage of port capacity [in the Russian Far East] and scientists say the ports will be unable to meet requirements if the volume of cargo transportation grows,” Far East Development Minister Viktor Ishayev said on Thursday. “This will be Russia’s third access point to the Pacific Ocean.”
Russia currently has access to the Pacific Ocean via the Trans-Siberian rail road (Transsib) running across the country from west to east and the alternative Baikal-Amur mainline. Both roads lead to Russia’s eastern ports.
A bridge to Sakhalin would become part of a planned 580-km (360-mile) railroad from Selikhin in the Khabarovsk Region to the Nysh station on Sakhalin Island, proposed by Transport Minister Igor Levitin in 2009, Railway Gazette reported. That would allow full integration of Russia’s rail network with the island’s ice-free ports.
Experts estimate the cost of building a bridge across the 7 km (4 miles) stretch between the mainland and Sakhalin Island at its narrowest point in the Nevelsky Strait could be at least $10 billion.
The Sakhalin Region is currently working jointly with rail monopoly Russian Railways on technical specifications for the project, which could take about two and a half years, he said.
Ishayev also said Russia could one day build a bridge across the 45-km strait from Sakhalin Island to Japan’s island of Hokkaido, creating a single rail corridor from Europe to Japan across Russia. A rail tunnel link between the two islands has also been proposed previously by Russian officials, Railway Gazette reported.
Ishayev proposed the mega-bridge project just two days after President Vladimir Putin criticized the federal government and local authorities over their failure to ensure effective development of Russia’s Far East, for which Russia has a massive 3.8 trillion ruble ($115 billion) investment program.
“Are you going to work, or what?” Putin asked participants on Tuesday at a Sakhalin region development meeting. Putin said only 20 percent of regional development targets set in December had been met, and called on officials to get moving.
Putin previously criticized the Finance Ministry for only providing 296 billion rubles (about $9.5 billion) for the Far East Development Program until 2020, although the program was approved with an estimated budget of 3.8 trillion rubles through 2025.
Several major bridge and road construction projects in Russia have ended in financial scandals and disasters in recent years.
A newly-built 1,104-meter bridge opened by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Vladivostok ahead of the 2012 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, had to be closed for “waterproofing and asphalt laying,” not long after it was finished, builder TMK said at the time.
In June 2012, a $930-million road, built to connect the airport in Vladivostok with Russky Island via that bridge, collapsed after heavy rains. Medvedev demanded punishment for those responsible for its poor construction.