Crimean Bridge

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Crimean Bridge
Крымский мост 21 декабря 2019 года.jpg
Coordinates 45°18′31″N 36°30′22″E / 45.3086°N 36.5061°E / 45.3086; 36.5061Coordinates: 45°18′31″N 36°30′22″E / 45.3086°N 36.5061°E / 45.3086; 36.5061
CarriesA290 highway
Bagerovo-Vyshestebliyevskaya railway
CrossesKerch Strait: (Kerch-Yenikale Canal, Tuzla Island, Tuzla Spit remains)
LocaleKerch, Crimea and Taman, Russia
Official nameКрымский мост
OwnerRussian government[1]
Websitemost.life
Characteristics
DesignDouble parallel railroad-road truss arch bridge
Total lengthRailroad bridge: 18.1 km (11.2 mi)
Road bridge: 16.9 km (10.5 mi)
Water depthUp to 9 m (30 ft)[2]
Longest span227 metres (745 ft)[3]
Clearance below35 m[4]
No. of lanes4
Rail characteristics
No. of tracks2
Track gaugeRussian gauge
History
DesignerInstitute Giprostroymost – Saint Petersbirg[5]
Constructed byStroygazmontazh
Construction start2016[a]
Construction end2018 (road bridge)
2019 (rail bridge)
Construction cost227,92 billion rubles[6]
Opened2018 (2018) (road bridge)[b]
25 December 2019 (25 December 2019) (rail bridge, passenger traffic)
Inaugurated15 May 2018 (road bridge)
23 December 2019 (rail bridge)
ReplacesKerch railway bridge,
Kerch Strait ferry line
Statistics
Daily traffic15k cars/day[9]
TollFree of charge[10]

The Crimean Bridge (Russian: Крымский мост, tr. Krymskiy most, IPA: [ˈkrɨmskʲij most]), also called the Kerch Strait Bridge, or colloquially the Kerch Bridge (Russian: Керченский мост), is a pair of Russian-constructed parallel bridges, spanning the Strait of Kerch between the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai and the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea (Russian-annexed,[11][12] mostly internationally recognised as part of Ukraine[13][14]). The bridge complex provides for both road and rail traffic. With a length of 19 km (11.8 mi)[c], it is the longest bridge Russia has ever built[17][d] and the longest in Europe.[18][15][19]

Having been considered at least since 1903, planning for the bridge began in 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea. In January 2015, the multibillion-dollar contract for the construction of the bridge was awarded to Arkady Rotenberg's Stroygazmontazh. Construction of the bridge commenced in February 2016;[a] the road bridge was inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 May 2018 and opened for non-truck cars on 16 May and for trucks on 1 October[7][20] The rail bridge was inaugurated on 23 December 2019 and the first scheduled passenger train crossed the bridge on 25 December 2019, while the opening of the bridge for freight trains is scheduled for 1 July 2020.

The bridge was christened the Crimean Bridge after an online vote in December 2017, while "Kerch Bridge" and "Reunification Bridge" were the second and third most popular choices.[21]

History[edit]

Pre-annexation proposals and attempts[edit]

The proposals of the construction of the Kerch Strait bridge were considered since early 20th century, and a 4.5-kilometre (2.8 mi) railway bridge across the strait was built by the Soviet Union in 1944, but not designed as permanent and marred with design and construction errors, the bridge was destroyed in February 1945 by flowing ice.[22] The proposal to merely repair it was quickly dismissed and the remnants of the destroyed bridge were dismantled, with permanent bridge designs envisaged instead. In 1949 the Soviet Government ordered the construction of a 5.969-kilometre (3.709 mi) two-tier combined road-rail bridge (two road lanes on the upper tier and two rail tracks on the lower tier) with 40 m clearance below, connecting Yeni-Kale with Chushka Spit, but in 1950 the construction was halted and a ferry line was created instead.[23]

A different version of the fixed link, the Kerch hydrounit project («Керченский гидроузел») was developed since the mid-1960s, proposing a system of dams and bridges across the strait. The project was not implemented due to a lack of funding[24] and the collapse of the USSR.[25][26]

The idea of a Kerch Strait bridge, now to become an international fixed link between independent states of Russia and Ukraine, survived the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but in 1994 the Russian and Ukrainian sides failed to finalize the project.[27] Former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov was a vocal advocate for a highway bridge across the strait, expressing hope that it would bring the Crimeans closer to Russia, both economically and symbolically.[27] Similar hopes were expressed by the pro-Russian authorities of Crimea, who also hoped that the bridge will contribute to either a "revival of the Silk Road" or to a multinational road along the Black Sea coast.[24][e]

Possible alignments of the proposed bridge as of 2002.[29] The red route ("Tuzla" or "Southern") ultimately became the basis for the Crimean Bridge built by Russia, while the cyan route (Cape Fonar – Cape Maly Kut, also known as "Northern route") was the one preliminarily preferred by the Ukrainian government in 2011.

The construction of the bridge was considered by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in 2006, and the then-Transport Minister of Ukraine Mykola Rudkovsky stated that he expects the construction to be a "net positive for Crimea" as it will allow "every tourist visiting Russian Caucasus to visit Crimea as well".[30][31] The issue was discussed by prime ministers of both countries in 2008,[32] and a Transport Strategy of Russia, adopted in that year, envisaged the construction of the Kerch Strait bridge as one of high priority issues for the development of the Southern Federal District transport infrastructure for the period of 2016–2030, with design to be created by 2015.[33] In 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait.[34] Russia and Ukraine signed a memorandum of mutual understanding on the construction of the bridge on 26 November 2010.[35] A 2011 study by the Ukrainian government announced preliminary preference for a route between Cape Fonar and Cape Maly Kut. Had that project been accomplished, it would have mean construction of a 10.92 km (6.79 mi) bridge link, with 49 km (30 mi) of adjacent roads and 24 km (15 mi) of adjacent railroads.[36]

The shelving of the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement in November 2013 led to increased interest in the construction of a bridge between Crimea and the Taman Peninsula of Russia,[37] and an agreement on the construction of that bridge was signed as a part of the 17 December 2013 Ukrainian–Russian action plan. In late January 2014, the Ukrainian and Russian governments decided that a new joint Ukrainian–Russian company would be commissioned to handle the construction of the bridge, while the Russian state enterprise Russian Highways (Avtodor) would become responsible for the bridge in the long term.[37] Additionally, it was decided a special working group would determine the location and set the technical parameters.[37] Construction was estimated by the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine to take five years with a cost between $1.5 and $3 billion.[37] In early February 2014, Russian Highways (Avtodor) was instructed by the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia to work on a feasibility study to be published in 2015.[37] In the following months, as relations deteriorated and Russia began taking Crimea over, bilateral negotiations over the bridge collapsed,[38] yet Russia claimed that it expected the December 2013 deals to be honored, and on 3 March prime minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a governmental decree to create a subsidiary of Avtodor to oversee the project.[39] A contest for the engineering survey of the bridge project was announced by that subsidiary on 18 March,[40] but by that time the premise of the contest, which still referred to 2013 agreements,[41] was already outdated.

Russian annexation of Crimea: start of the construction and international response[edit]

Following the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in March 2014 amid the deterioration of the Ukraine-Russia relationship, the Kerch Strait bridge project became instrumental for Russia to integrate newly annexed territory into Russia.[13] Although Ukraine lost control of the peninsula, it was still able to isolate it by shutting vital transportation links, since Russia, unlike Ukraine, did not have overland links to Crimea at that time,[42] and using the Kerch Strait ferry line instead had its limitations: ferry traffic was often halted because of bad weather,[43] and there were often long queues of vehicles.[15] Aside from practical necessity, the bridge also had a symbolic purpose: it was meant to show Russia's resolve to hold Crimea,[13] and as a "physical" attachment of Crimea to the Russian territory.[44] No longer a bilateral infrastructure project, the Kerch Strait Bridge design and construction from that time onwards was conducted by Russia unilaterally – and it was only at this time that the construction of a permanent fixed link across the Kerch Strait ceased to be a long-shelved project and became reality.[45]

Announcement that Russia would build a road-rail bridge over the strait was made by the Russian President Vladimir Putin on 19 March 2014,[46][47][48] just one day after Russia officially claimed Crimea. In January 2015, the contract for the construction of the bridge was awarded to the SGM Group, whose owner Arkady Rotenberg is reportedly a close personal friend of Putin and was internationally sanctioned in response to the Russian military involvement in Ukraine. SGM typically constructs pipelines and had no experience building bridges, according to BBC News.[49]

Meanwhile, in April 2014, the Ukrainian government gave Russia six months notice of its withdrawal from the now-defunct bilateral Kerch Bridge agreement.[50] Since then, Ukrainian government has actively condemned Russian construction of the bridge,[51] as illegal[52] because Ukraine, "as a coastal state with regard to the Crimean Peninsula" did not give its consent to such construction,[53] and called on Russia to demolish "those parts of that structure located within the temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory".[54] Sanctions were introduced by the United States and the European Union against companies involved in the construction,[55][56] and since December 2018 the United Nations General Assembly repeatedly condemned construction and opening of the bridge as "facilitating the further militarization of Crimea"[57][58] and "restricting the size of ships that can reach the Ukrainian ports on the Azov coast".[59] Russia, on the other hand, asserted that it "shall not ask for anybody’s permission to build transport infrastructure for the sake of the population of Russian regions".[60]

Design[edit]

Crimean Bridge on a 2018 Russian postage stamp (top) and 2019 5 Ruble coin (bottom)
The bridge in April 2018

The Russian government's draft resolution of 1 September 2014 required the bridge to have 4 lanes of vehicle traffic and a double-track railway.[61] After the annexation, Russian officials looked at various options for connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland, including a tunnel, but eventually settled on a bridge.[13]

An official video from October 2015 contained a CGI concept of the bridge design, annotated with various measurements. It showed a four-lane, flat deck highway bridge running parallel with the separate two-track railway. The main span over the Kerch Strait shipping canal has a steel arch support, 227 m (745 ft) wide with a 35 m (115 ft) clearance above the water to allow for ships to pass under. There are three segments: from the Taman Peninsula to Tuzla Spit is 7 km (4 mi); across Tuzla Island is 6.5 km (4.0 mi); and from Tuzla Island to the Crimean Peninsula is 5.5 km (3.4 mi) (19 km (12 mi) total).[62]

The final concept was a major change from initial project considered in late 2014. That one envisaged construction of two bridge links (parallel road and rail bridges between the Taman Peninsula and the Tuzla Spit and a double deck road-rail bridge between the Tuzla Island and the Kerch Peninsula) and a causeway on Tuzla Spit.[63] This design was scrapped: causeway was deemed too risky to rely on, given instability of the Tuzla Spit,[64] and the official reason for abandonment of a double deck bridge in favor of two continuous parallel structures was that the latter solution allows for less massive spans and for simultaneous construction of both bridges (rather than having to construct one level of bridge first before starting the second one), an important consideration given demands by the Russian government that road and rail link shall be operational quickly.[65] The "Tuzla route" was preferred over shorter variants (starting at Chushka Spit), in particular because doing otherwise would have interfered with the still operational ferry line[66] to the effect of worsening transport communications of Russia with Crimea.[67]

The bridge was built by Stroygazmontazh Ltd (SGM), which had never built a major bridge before it. Because of the risk of sanctions, no international insurance company had underwritten the potential $3 billion loss if the project goes wrong. So it was insured by a small Crimean company.[68]

The geology of the Kerch Strait is difficult: it has a tectonic fault, and the bedrock is covered by a 60 m (197 ft) layer of silt.[68] About 70 mud volcanoes have been found in the area of the strait.[68] More than 7,000 piles support the bridges; these piles have been driven up to 91 m (300 ft) beneath the water surface.[68] Some of the piles are at an angle to make the structure more stable during earthquakes.[68]

Some experts have expressed doubts that the construction is durable, given the tectonic and sea current conditions in the strait.[68][69]

Construction[edit]

Putin leading the first convoy across the bridge, 2018

Preliminary works on the bridge began in May 2015. More than 200 bombs[70] and a few airplanes (including an Ilyushin Il-2[71] and a Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk[72]) from the World War II era were found in the area during pre-construction clearance. Three temporary bridges were built, to facilitate access (independent of weather and currents) for main construction.[73] By October 2015, the first of the temporary bridges had been constructed, connecting Tuzla Island and Taman Peninsula.[74]

Main construction started in February 2016.[75] First piles were constructed in early 2016,[76] and in April 2016 first pillar of the road bridge was constructed.[77] The foundations of the road bridge were completed in August 2017.[78] The two shipping canal arches (over the Kerch–Yenikale Canal) were lifted into position in August[79] and October[80] that year. In October 2017, National Guard of Russia Director Viktor Zolotov announced a new "maritime brigade" is being formed as part of Russia's Southern Military District to protect the bridge.[81] In December 2017 all road pillars and spans were completed,[82][83] by April 2018 asphalt concrete was laid onto the road bridge,[84] and after some examination it was deemed that road bridge bridge is ready for operation.[85]

The first train travels along the new Crimean bridge railway, 2019

On 15 May 2018, Putin led a convoy of trucks, driving one himself, across the bridge in an inauguration ceremony.[86] The bridge was opened for non-truck vehicle traffic on 16 May 2018[7] and for trucks on 1 October.[8]

The construction of the rail bridge contiuned. In June 2018 piles were finished[87] and in July 2018 deployment of the rail tracks started.[88]

In October 2018, the Russian Taman Road Administration reported that when one of the railway spans was being lowered into place, it tilted and fell into the sea. This occurred in the sea section between Tuzla Spit and Tuzla Island.[89][90][91][92][93][94] In November 2018 railway pillars were completed.[95]

On 24 March 2019 the bridge's press center reported completion of construction of railway spans,[96] and on 18 July it reported completion of the bridge's rail tracks.[97] In October 2019, the opening for freight trains was postponed until 2020, the official cause was the delay in the construction of connecting railroad caused by the discovery of an ancient site on the Kerch Peninsula.[98][99] Sale of train tickets across the Kerch Strait started in November 2019.[100] On 18 December 2019 the rail bridge was deemed ready for operation,[101][102] and President Putin formally opened the bridge on 23 December.[103] The first scheduled passenger train crossed the bridge on 25 December 2019,[104] while the opening of the bridge for freight trains is scheduled to 1 July 2020.[105]

The rail bridge design provides the ability for installing overhead railway electrification system "whenever such decision will be made", requiring no rebuilding of the bridge's structures. Pending electrification, the rail bridge will be served by diesel locomotives.[106]

Operation and impact[edit]

The road bridge, opened in 2018, quickly overtook the Kerch Strait ferry as a preferred route of communication of Crimea with rest of the de facto Russian territory. In first 12 hours of operation it broke traffic record of the ferry, established in August 2017,[107] after the bridge was opened for trucks in October 2018, truck transportation through ferry virtually ceased,[108] and after first full year of operation (May 2018 – May 2019) road bridge served more than three times bigger traffic than Kerch Strait ferry served in entire 2017.[109] Since the road bridge is free of charge, in comparison to ferry, it is claimed that users of the bridge saved more than 16 billion rubles.[110] The bridge is said to have been contributed to increase of number of tourists visiting in Crimea,[111] with bridge traffic peaked in summer months – on 5 August 2018 the bridge had broken a single-day record for car traffic, with 32,000 vehicles crossing the span,[112] followed by over 33,000 vehicles on 12 August that year[113] and over 35,000 a year later.[114]

On the other hand, decrease of prices in Crimea, which was expected to occur after opening of the road bridge, did not happen. According to a local Russian administration, this situation persists because large retail groups are not working in Crimea due to either risk of getting sanctioned or because they deem Crimea a "logistic dead end",[111] although there are expectations that opening of the rail bridge will contribute to decrease of prices for certain goods.[115]

Ukraine, which has two major ports on the Sea of Azov through which it exports steel and agricultural products,[116] has alleged that the bridge is being used by Russia as part of a creeping hybrid blockade of Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea, and that Russian inspections of ships have risen sharply since the bridge opened in May 2018, some being forced to wait for three days before being allowed through.[117][118] The main span of the bridge is 33 to 35 metres (108 to 115 ft) above sea level; the Ukrainian maritime authority says many ships are too tall to pass safely under the bridge.[118][119] The bulk carrier Copan (deadweight tonnage 17,777 tons) solved this problem by cutting off the top of her mast.[119] On 26 October 2018 The Globe and Mail, citing Ukrainian sources, reported that the bridge had reduced Ukrainian shipping from its Sea of Azov ports by about 25%.[116] In November 2018 the area near the bridge became a site of the Kerch Strait incident, in which the Russian navy claimed that three Ukrainian vessels entered Russian territorial waters. Russian forces seized the vessels and arrested their crew. During this time passage through the Strait under the bridge was blocked by a large cargo ship, placed under the bridge to prevent passage of other craft.[120][121] In response, Ukraine declared martial law in some regions of the country for 30 days.[120]

Archaeology[edit]

A part of a big Greek terracotta statue has been found at the Crimean Bridge construction site, during the underwater digging near the Ak-Burun Cape. According to archaeologists this is a unique finding, since it is the first of its kind found in the northern Black Sea area.[122]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Preliminary works started in May 2015, and main construction (of the link itself) started in February 2016. See below.
  2. ^ Opened on 16 May 2018 for non-truck traffic[7] and on 1 October for trucks[8]
  3. ^ Entire fixed link, including small causeways at the ends. The bridges themselves are 18.1 km (11.2 mi) (rail)[15] and about 17 km (10.6 mi) (road) long[16]
  4. ^ Crimean Bridge is also often considered to be the longest bridge in Russia,[15] but this is applicable only for the de facto Russian territory, including Crimea, since most of the bridge is located within the (Autonomous) Republic of Crimea. Taman–Tuzla Spit part, lying in undisputed Russian territory, is only 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) long,[16] which makes it shorter than President Bridge in Ulyanovsk Oblast (5.825 kilometres (3.619 mi))
  5. ^ After the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia contiuned support of inclusion of the peninsula into that proposed road, claiming that such option will be economically more feasible. But Ukraine, which previously was in support of such solution as well, now turned stridently opposed to it.[28]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Records
Preceded by
Vasco da Gama Bridge
Europe’s longest bridge
2018 – present
Succeeded by
Incumbent
Preceded by
South overpass of the
Western High-Speed Diameter
Russia’s longest bridge
2018 – present1
Preceded by
Øresund Bridge
Europe’s longest railway bridge
2019 – present
Preceded by
Yuribey Bridge
Russia’s longest railway bridge
2019 – present
Notes and references
1. Longest bridge built by Russia, but whether longest in Russia depends on one's stance in the Crimean dispute.