The Kerch Strait Bridge – Europe’s Longest – Nears Completion
What is the longest bridge in Europe? It’s a good trivial pursuit question, but not one most will be able to answer. In fact, its existence is partially down to Western sanctions on Russia following the decision to bring the Crimean Peninsula back into Russia. (Historians will know that apart from the period 1991-2014, Crimea was part of either the Soviet Union or Russia from 1783, and had previously been part of the Ottoman Empire along with Turkey, Bulgaria, and Romania before then).
Crimea’s main problem has always been infrastructure and getting supplies in from Russia. The territory sits to the south of what is the southern part of Ukraine, and has long been distinctly pro-Russian in character. Had the Ukrainian government not neglected the region and its inhabitants due to their pro-Russian stance in the period leading up to the Ukranian conflict, Crimea may still be part of Ukraine. A referendum, held in Crimea by the residents to remain with Ukraine or become part of Russia gave overwhelming support for the Russian option, yet was declared illegal by the Ukranian government. At that point, the Russian military intervened, an action that led to the sanctions imposed upon the country. It should be remembered that Crimea has an interesting footnote in European history – it was at Yalta, for decades a favorite resort town for the Tsars, that Stalin met with Roosevelt and Churchill to discuss the future shape of post-war Europe. It remains a contemporary irony that what was then considered an integral part of Russia in 1945, with Stalin hosting, is now thought to be ‘illegally occupied’ by his ultimate successor, Vladimir Putin. Such are the strange twists of modern political European geography.
The Russians, meanwhile, have been investing heavily in the region. In fact, the Crimean or Kerch Strait Bridge is one of the most ambitious engineering projects in Russia’s history – 19 km (12 miles) of road and rail connection to Crimea. The Russian Ministry of Transport recently announced that the bridge is 75 percent complete, and is due to open by December next year, connecting Crimea’s Kerch Peninsula to the Taman Peninsula of the Krasnodar Region. The bridge costs an estimated 228 billion rubles (US$3.8 billion).
More than 20 ships and 5,000 people are working to complete the project, which will see the bridge’s highway consist of four lanes, accommodating up to 40,000 cars each day. The speed limit will be 120 km/h, toll free, and will take about 10 minutes to drive from end to end. There are two rail tracks, taking 47 trains per day, travelling maximum speeds of 120 km/h (passenger) and 80 km/h (cargo). The rail section will be completed in 2019. The bridge also has special 227 meter long, 35 meter high archways to allow shipping to pass underneath.
The sanctions upon Russia will one day be lifted or at the very least modified, meaning Crimean Ports such as Sevastopol may later become part of the overall Belt Road Initiative, as they link to Eastern Europe across the Black Sea. Kerch, on the Crimean side just next to the bridge, is already being developed as a major shipping port. However, these will need significant further development and investment from Russia, even though such trade was commonplace a century ago. Curiously, the development of the Kerchen Strait Bridge brings the Crimean Peninsula closer to Europe through the subsequent infrastructure built than it previously was. History will show how its further development continues.
A video of how the bridge will appear is below:
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