National Audit Office: the risk that large roads cannot be developed is aggravating while the roads already built are in danger of deterioration

9/14/2022 | 11:00 AM

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TALLINN, 14 September 2022 – Even though the quality of and driving comfort on public roads has constantly been improving over the past few years, the financing of the maintenance and development of public roads is facing sharp cutbacks in the coming years. Estonia probably will not be able to fulfil its commitment to the European Union to properly build the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla and Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa roads by 2030, the National Audit Office finds in its report published today.

“In a situation of insufficient financing for achieving the objectives, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications needs to set its priorities according to the financing capabilities or propose additional financing sources for road maintenance,” Auditor General Janar Holm said.

Three years ago, in 2019, Teede Tehnokeskus estimated that 193 million euros annually is the optimum that is needed to ensure at least a satisfactory level of all high-traffic roads and to improve the overall condition of the road network, but the budget strategy and the financial plan for the road maintenance plan 2022–2025 show that the funding for the construction and repairs of public roads is facing sharp cutbacks instead. For example, in 2022, the planned budget for road maintenance is 141.8 million euros, but it will decrease to 80.9 million (including VAT) by 2025.

“Given the rapid increase in prices, the actual volume of roadworks is expected to decrease several times over the coming years,” stated Auditor General Janar Holm. According to the Transport Administration, the reduction in the financing may result in defects in roads by 2025 which cannot be repaired within the planned financing.

The National Audit Office outlines that, due to the decreasing funding, it is not possible to simultaneously fulfil the commitment to the European Union to build the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla and Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa roads according to the requirements by 2030, achieve the traffic safety objectives and cover gravel roads with a dust-free pavement.

Currently, 30% of the Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa road and 21% of the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla road meet the requirements of the Trans-European Transport Network TEN-T. In order to meet the requirements, roads must have separate roadways for each direction, which are separated from each other by a barrier, and crossings with railways, pedestrian and bicycle roads and tramways must be at different levels.

So far, the construction of TEN-T roads has been funded from European Union funds, but the amounts allocated to Estonia for road construction are not sufficient to perform the duties undertaken. The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications is aware that from the implementation plan of the Cohesion Policy funds of the European Union budget period 2021–2027 and the draft partnership agreement 159 million euros will be allocated to public roads in the financial period 2021–2027. Knowing that the requirements established for TEN-T roads will become stricter, an average of up to 214.3 million euros annually should be allocated until 2050 to achieve the objectives of the Transport Network TEN-T and to develop TEN-T roads.

The National Audit Office states that the intended reduced financing for road construction may worsen the chances of meeting Estonia's road safety goals. Even though the Government of the Republic has set a goal in the Road Safety Programme by 2025 that the three-year average number of people losing their lives in traffic should drop down to forty, there are no funds available to make the investments necessary to achieve this goal. According to the financial plan for the road maintenance plan, no more funds have been allocated from 2024 onwards for the reconstruction of dangerous intersections. So far, the Road Safety Programme has not achieved its interim results in any year, and the number of fatalities has been decreasing more than twice as slowly as desired.

The National Audit Office points out that there are at least four-fold differences between the sums required to achieve the goal of making roads dust-free and the sums allocated according to the plans. In the Transport and Mobility Development Plan, the country has established a goal of making all gravel roads used by more than 50 vehicles per day dust-free by 2030. As of right now, approximately 1,800 km of gravel roads are to be covered with a dust-free pavement, which means about 200 km a year. Without taking into account the increase in the price of road construction, this would need 20.5 million euros per year. However, for the years 2022–2023, under 5 million euros per year is planned for the construction of a dust-free pavement for gravel roads, and the funding for road maintenance planned for the years 2024–2025 does not allow for the construction of pavement on gravel roads.

Background

The National Audit Office analysed whether in a situation where the funding allocated to the development and maintenance of roads according to the road maintenance plan and the state budget strategy is decreasing, it is possible to maintain the quality of the existing public roads and at the same time fulfil the international obligations and build new highways belonging to the Trans-European Transport Network.

In the past fifteen years, the state of main highways has been improved the most because European Union subsidies have been available for the development. Secondary roads are in a poorer state, with 75% of them in satisfactory condition. Roads have improved overall also because, with the limited funding, the Transport Administration has deliberately omitted to carry out some major repair works and has performed cheaper works instead, which have increased driving comfort. For example, the Transport Administration has placed a priority on covering road surfaces and levelling roads with screed. However, the condition of road structures continues to deteriorate over time and repairs will become even more expensive in the future. As a result, surfacing and screed only help to postpone the major works temporarily.

Estonia has made a commitment to the European Union to develop the TEN-T core network roads by 2030. In Estonia, this includes the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla and the Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa roads.

The development and maintenance of public roads is the responsibility of the Transport Administration, which belongs to the area of government of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications. As of the beginning of 2022, public roads made up 16,662 km, of which 1,605 km (9.5%) are main roads, 2,408 km (14.2%) are basic roads, 12,515 km (73.9%) are secondary roads and other public roads, and 134 km (0.8%) are ramps and connecting roads.

Priit Simson
Head of Communications of the National Audit Office of Estonia
+372 640 0102
+372 5615 0280
priit.simson@riigikontroll.ee
press@riigikontroll.ee
http://www.riigikontroll.ee/

  • Posted: 9/14/2022 11:00 AM
  • Last Update: 9/13/2022 10:54 PM
  • Last Review: 9/13/2022 10:54 PM

Currently, 30% of the Tallinn-Tartu-Võru-Luhamaa road and 21% of the Tallinn-Pärnu-Ikla road meet the requirements of the Trans-European Transport Network TEN-T.

Dmitri Kotjuh / Järva Teataja

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