Duma to Hear Bill On State Road Firm

The State Duma will hear in a first reading on Friday legislation that would create a state company to manage federal roads and nearby property, but critics said the bill would only foster corruption and force drivers to pay unwanted tolls.

A company called Avtodor would receive concessions on up to 18,300 kilometers of roads to manage planning, construction and repairs, according to a copy of the bill on the Duma's web site.

A group of four United Russia deputies, including First Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov and three members of the Construction and Land Use Committee, introduced the bill Dec. 18.

Avtodor, which would use money from the federal budget and private investments as well as tolls, would be able to rent roadside land to third parties and manage infrastructure along the highways. The amount of funding is not specified in the bill.

"I think drivers who will be traveling on world-class roads will agree to pay for them," Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said Thursday, Interfax reported.

Gryzlov said all of the money made by the new state firm would be used to build and maintain roads, although not all of them would be toll-based.

The company's first tasks would be dealing with overcrowded roads, toll roads and high-speed roads, said Martin Shakkum, head of the committee and one of the bill's authors. Avtodor would not become the owner of the roads or land, he said.

Shakkum said, however, that Avtodor's right to lend the land was "up for discussion," as it was not currently legal under the Land Code.

But the bill as proposed faced considerable skepticism, including from within the Duma.

Vyacheslav Dubrovin, a United Russia member and deputy head of the Transportation Committee, said the law "as it reads has a multitude of contradictions and major holes."

Nonetheless, he added, his committee supports the general idea of creating the company.

Dmitry Baranov, an analyst with Finam Management, disagreed that a state company would solve Russia's road woes. "It will be another powerful bureaucratic structure with enormous rights and small responsibilities," he said.

"The state company will be involved in all ways of making profits, not necessarily pouring the funds into the budget. Most roads will remain in their poor condition or worsen."

Toll roads are virtually nonexistent in Russia, although the idea is floated frequently to deal with the country's decrepit transportation network as well as the traffic problems within Moscow.

Sergei Kanayev, Moscow coordinator of the Russian Federation of Auto Owners, was also skeptical that the company would improve the lives of ordinary people.

"If this company will be a monopoly, it will become yet another way of pumping money out of the people, masked as a measure in the interest of drivers," he said.