Putin favours Crimea tunnel option

2 December 2014

RUSSIA - The Russian government plans to abolish a project to build a bridge to Crimea via the Kerch Strait and replace it by a tunnel, according to Oleg Savelyev, Russia’s minister for Crimean affairs.

This will be mainly due to cost issues, as building the bridge will allegedly be up to four times more expensive than the tunnel. In addition, construction of the bridge and its further use could have been complicated by adverse weather conditions in the area.

Georgi Muradov, Presidential Envoy in the Crimean region said, "Building the bridge would be very dangerous, and it would be closed for at least a month per year due to stormy winds and freezing rains during winter. We are taking into account the experience of foreign companies specialised in the construction of such crossings."

According to estimates by the Russian government, the volume of investments in the tunnel is expected to reach RUB 80bn (USD 1.58bn), while in the case of the bridge it would be up to RUB 228bn (USD 4.48bn). Exchange rates subject to rapid change as Tunnels went to press.

It is expected that the project may involve participation of Vision Transportation Group (VTG), a global consulting company, which was involved in various infrastructure projects, including construction of the underwater tunnel under the Bosporus in Istanbul.

According to an official spokesman of Dmitry Kozak , Russia's deputy prime minister, who is responsible for the implementation of the project, VTG has already sent an application for the implementation of the project to the Russian government.

The tunnel could be built in the Kerch Strait, where a ferry route currently exists.

This alignment is much narrower than those of Tuzla's, and provides a possibility of the use of those construction technologies that will not interrupt the operations of the ferry line. According to an official spokesman of the Crimean government, this will be a modular, flexible tunnel. Geology is expected to be sandy ground.

There is a possibility that the project may be implemented by Stroytransgaz, one of Russia's largest engineering holdings, owned by Gennady Timchenko, one of Russia's richest businessman, a figure close to Putin.

Gennady Timchenko added, "Building the tunnel is an acute need, as it will allow Russia to significant increase cargo supplies to Crimea. At present ferries transport just four trains per day. With the commissioning of the tunnel this number will tenfold to 40."

At the same time, there is a possibility that, due to the high risks associated with the implementation of the project, Timchenko's Stroytransgaz may be appointed just a sub-contractor of the project, while the major risks will be borne by the Russian State Agency for Special Construction (Spetsstroy), which will act as a general contractor. The project may also involve participation of Chinese investors, which have already built a tunnel in the Macau autonomous territory on the bottom of the South China Sea, as well as some investors from Canada. At the same time in the case of participation of Chinese investors in the project, part of the funding could be provided by leading Chinese banks.

According to Evgeniya Bavykina, Crimea's vice prime minister, the new tunnel is expected to of two rail lines, a six-lane highway and a pipe for electricity and gas supply. The project also involves building of all the necessary port infrastructure and road junctions.

A feasibility study of the project should be completed by 15 December 2014. According to state plans, the new tunnel should be commissioned by 31 December 2017 in accordance with a recent order by President Vladimir Putin.