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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Untangling the Traffic Snarl

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Traffic congestion is nothing new in Moscow, but the situation has grown significantly worse in recent months. According to the Emergency Situations Ministry's Moscow branch, emergency vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks are increasingly unable to make it through the traffic morass to reach their destinations in time, with the obvious dire consequences for city residents. The simple fact is that the city's traffic jams cost lives.

And the problem only continues to get worse as 300,000 to 400,000 new cars pull out into Moscow's clogged lanes every year. Given these conditions, a radical and comprehensive program is required to deal with the problem.

The experience of other megalopolises suggests that the only truly effective solution is the construction of additional roads and interchanges outside the city center. The greatest rush hour congestion occurs on those lines radiating out from the city center to the suburbs, meaning that the problem is one the city government and the Moscow region administration will have to work together to solve.

The good news is that the city administration has allocated 48 million rubles ($1.85 million) for the construction of new roads and interchanges. The bad news is that transportation analysts say the investment necessary to maintain current traffic flows is at least 90 million rubles. Even this level of funding won't improve the situation -- it will just prevent it from deteriorating further. It is clear that the sums budgeted to deal with the problem aren't up to the task.

Two major proposals for addressing the traffic problem were submitted to the city government last year, but Mayor Yury Luzhkov dismissed both as too limited in scope.

One approach that has not been tried is to attract funds from the private sector for the construction of new roads. Members of my staff teamed up with legal and transportation specialists to analyze the relevant federal legislation on public-private partnerships of this type and are working on specific proposals on amendments to improve the investment climate in this area. One option is to proceed with such projects on the basis of a 2005 law dealing with concessions agreements between governments and parties in the private sector and allowing legislators to define terms of cooperation and determine the level of ownership for investors in joint private-municipal projects.

A consideration here is that current land laws place roads and highways in a special category that prohibits private ownership. Furthermore, the federal planning code sets out specific safety standards for transportation construction.

An interesting idea for involving cooperation between municipal and private institutions could be the Strassenhaus project, which would see roadways built above ground level and using non-residential buildings as part of their support foundations. This project would tap private funding to address municipal infrastructure problems.

The other proposal -- one that has been put forward on a number of occasions -- is for the introductions of toll booths on arteries flowing into the city center. The management of access in this manner means that a number of related issues will have to be addressed.

The first of these would be the creation of large parking facilities near the tollgates, allowing motorists choosing not to pay the toll to leave their cars. Adequate and convenient public transportation would have to link these parking facilities to the city and the transportation system within the center itself would have to be reconfigured completely. The number of buses and the routes they served would have to be increased and it might be necessary to put shuttle buses serving only specific areas in operation to facilitate rapid and convenient movement. For example, it is currently faster and more convenient to walk from the Baltschug Kempinsky Hotel, across the Moscow River from the Kremlin, to the Moscow City Duma building -- a distance of around 2 kilometers -- than it is to take the metro. Conceivably, a special bus route would solve this problem.

Just as important, City Hall has to devote more attention to predicting future traffic flows. There is still not a good understanding of current traffic patterns, much less a clear picture of future traffic loads. This is vital given new construction and the ever-increasing number of vehicles.

One way to get an idea of how vital this is would be to calculate the cumulative costs generated by traffic jams, including the extra gasoline consumed by cars as they stand idle, the cost of battling environmental damage, bills for medical treatment for air pollution-related illnesses, and the losses incurred by people arriving late to work or missing important meetings.

The total figure would no doubt be enormous. Big enough, in all likelihood, to be the most convincing argument for resolving the city's traffic problem as quickly as possible.

Ivan Novitsky is a deputy in the Moscow City Duma and head of the Union of Right Forces Moscow Branch.