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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cabinet Approves Bill on Toll Roads

Itar-TassA tollbooth on a highway in the Lipetsk region. A new bill would provide a legal framework to develop more toll roads.
The Cabinet backed a bill Thursday designed to create a system of toll roads around the country, a Transportation Ministry spokeswoman confirmed.

The proposed bill is intended to provide an overarching legal framework for the development of toll roads and will be forwarded to the State Duma for consideration.

The modernization of the country's dilapidated road infrastructure, ridiculed since the time of Gogol, has long been seen as a crucial factor in the wider development of the nation's economy.

"The aim of the bill is to develop the road network, improve conditions and safety for drivers and attract investment," Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said at the Cabinet meeting, Interfax reported.

Under the proposed legislation, toll roads would eventually become the property of federal or local governments, but private investment would be used in partnership with state spending to construct and manage the projects.

Because it has little experience in building or running toll roads, the government is keen to bring foreign investors on board, said Georgy Fast, investment analyst at engineering company 2K.

But with a payback period of 10 to 25 years for such projects, the attractiveness of the investment is doubtful, Fast said.

"I doubt that even Russian firms would be interested in investing under those conditions," he said.

Later this year, construction will start on a pilot project toll road linking Moscow and St. Petersburg. The multibillion-dollar project, funded both privately and publicly, should be completed by early 2010 and ease travel between the cities.

No announcements have been made on how much toll roads will cost and where they will be built, but experts estimate that the cost of the 660-kilometer drive from Moscow to St. Petersburg could range from between 600 rubles ($23) and 1,000 rubles, Radio Mayak reported Thursday.

The bill also stipulates that toll-free roads must run parallel to the routes of the proposed highways.

"The citizen's constitutional right to freedom of movement must be respected," a Transport Ministry statement said.

Driver's rights organizations have welcomed the introduction of toll roads but warned that they would not be a panacea to all the country's traffic ills.

"The toll roads should ease some of the problems but they will not solve all of them and will even create some," said Pyotr Lukashov, director of the Society for the Defense of Motorists' Rights.

"So many people commute into Moscow from the surrounding areas everyday to work and they will not want to have to pay to use the roads," Lukashov said. "People will be forced onto the free roads and they will not be able to cope."

State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin attacked the plans, saying any talk of charges was unjustifiable with toll-free roads in their current lamentable state, reported.

"If you don't build toll-free roads to begin with, then in many regions there won't be alternatives to them," he said.