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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Puts Brakes On $1.2Bln Tunnel

City Hall announced Tuesday that it has suspended a $1.2 billion contract to dig a tunnel under Lefortovo Park for the third ring road, a move that temporarily puts up in the air the fate of a highway meant to relieve traffic congestion.

The 2,150-meter-long tunnel with a capacity to handle 2,000 cars an hour would have been one of the most expensive projects to date ordered by City Hall. Its price tag, for example, is about three times higher than the $350 million City Hall spent to construct the underground Okhotny Ryad shopping center.

Boris Nikolsky, a deputy mayor, told reporters that even though the city last year awarded the $1.2 billion contract to Russian construction company Organizator, it now estimates that a tunnel should not cost more than $900 million.

"We calculated that the underground variant will cost around $900 million," Nikolsky said. "A surface road would turn out to be much cheaper, but we would have to consider the environmental and cultural aspects of going through Lefortovo."

He said Luzhkov had personally ordered that the project be halted and had set up a special commission headed by City Hall construction chief Vladimir Resin to consider alternatives to the tunnel. Among the options that will be considered are the 40-meter-deep tunnel, the surface road through the park and a bridge over the park.

A decision should be made by the end of September, he said.

Organizator has already spent $200 million in preliminary work, moving communications cables from the future construction site, company head Gennady Muravin told Vedomosti.

Nikolsky said that Organizator's work had not gone to waste and that it would be paid back for its expenditures.

"That money will be reimbursed according to the law," Nikolsky said. "Anyway, whatever variant will be chosen [for the road], their work will be incorporated in the project."

City Hall initially opted for the tunnel after conservationists protested against having the road cut through the park. They said vibrations from construction equipment would ruin the park's ponds and other waterways and damage its historical and architectural monuments.

Opponents to the tunnel said they were convinced there was nothing they could do to protect Lefortovo. "Last week we voted against having the third ring pass through Lefortovo," said Viktor Vinogradov, head of the nongovernmental Expertise and Consulting Commission, which works with Moscow's chief architect. "No reaction from City Hall followed except for some fake stories in some Moscow media in which I cheer the project."

The third ring road, portions of which have been under construction since 1984, is being built between the Garden Ring and the Outer Ring Road in a bid to ease traffic in central Moscow. City Hall this year allocated 18 billion rubles ($613.66 million) of its 30 billion ruble road fund for construction of the road.