Washington, 17 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - The former Soviet Union had one of the largest and most heavily used railway systems in the world and spent far more of its economy on moving goods around the country than any other nation -- over 14 times more than Western Europe and six times more than the United States.
U.S. and World Bank experts say that this much greater reliance on railroads had nothing to do with the size of the U.S.S.R. Rather, they say, it was because industrial production was concentrated in a few large complexes with location decisions based on social or political factors instead of locational or economic considerations.
Rail traffic in the former Soviet countries dropped by 32 percent between 1990 and 1993, but is expected to increase as regional economies begin to recover. However, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (TDA) says, the increased movement of goods is expected to shift more from railroads to highways and the road system isn't ready.
The TDA reports in Russia, 40 percent of the federal road network is in poor condition and another 25 percent is barely good enough to support repaving. Even worse, it says that "more than one-third of the 60,000 bridges on the public road network are in poor condition and older bridges are in danger of collapsing if not repaired and strengthened."
The agency says Russian public road traffic is "quite low" by West European or American standards because of low car ownership and the small amount of freight transported by trucks in the past.
But that will certainly change as economic needs lead companies to shift the movement of many goods from trains to trucks.
The TDA, a small U.S. agency which makes grants for business and infrastructure feasibility studies in developing nations around the world, says the resulting boom in highway construction in the former Soviet states represents potential business for American highway firms.
So it has organized a three-day conference in St. Petersburg, Russia for U.S. companies interested in bidding directly for some of the business or forming partnerships with local enterprises.
Over the next three days, more than 20 major transportation projects will be reviewed at the conference by buyers and potential partners from the countries involved, as well as representatives of the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). These include the $467 million Russian Bridge Rehabilitation project, the $132 million Ukraine Urban Transport program, and the $83 million Belarus Brest-Minsk-Russian border highway project.
Other projects to be reviewed include:
a 37 million dollar Armenian Highway rehabilitation project
a 122.5 million dollar Kazakhstan Road restructuring project
a 37.6 million dollar Moldova road rehabilitation project
a 260 million dollar Russia St. Petersburg Ring road project
a 125 million dollar Russia Moscow-Klin motor way project
a 340 million dollar Russia highway rehabilitation project
a 500 million dollar Russia Siberia & Far East highway project
a 55 million dollar Turkmenistan national roads project
a 40 million dollar Turkmenistan urban transport project
a 304 million dollar Ukraine highway rehabilitation project.
The TDA says these projects are at various stages of consideration and approval within the World Bank, the EBRD and others.
"The development of high quality roadways in these countries will provide a powerful boost to economic growth, since a market economy requires flexible and responsive road transportation services to deliver goods to domestic and foreign customers" it said.
The Russian Federal Automobile Highway Service Agency, the Russian Association of Territorial Highway Administrations, the American Road and Transportation Builders Association and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration are co-sponsoring the conference.