Crimean Bridge


The Crimean Bridge (Russian: Крымский мост, tr. Krymskiy most, IPA: [ˈkrɨmskʲij most]), also called the Kerch Strait Bridge, or colloquially the Kerch Bridge, is a pair of Russian-constructed parallel bridges, spanning the Strait of Kerch between the Taman Peninsula of Krasnodar Krai and the Kerch Peninsula of Crimea.[lower-alpha 4] The bridge complex provides for both road and rail traffic, and has a length of 19 km (11.8 mi),[lower-alpha 5] making it the longest bridge Russia has ever built,[17][lower-alpha 6] and the longest bridge in Europe.[18][15][19]

Crimean Bridge
The Crimean Bridge in December 2019
Coordinates45°18′31″N 36°30′22″E
CarriesA290 highway
Bagerovo–Vyshestebliyevskaya railway
CrossesKerch Strait: (Kerch–Yenikale Canal, Tuzla Island, Tuzla Spit remains)
LocaleKerch, Crimea and Taman, Russia
Official nameКрымский мост
OwnerGovernment of Russia[1]
Characteristics
DesignDouble parallel railroad-road truss arch bridge
Total lengthRailroad bridge: 18.1 km (11.2 mi)
Road bridge: 16.9 km (10.5 mi)
Water depthUp to 9 m (30 ft)[2]
Longest span227 metres (745 ft)[3]
Clearance below35 m[4]
No. of lanes4
Rail characteristics
No. of tracks2
Track gaugeRussian gauge
History
DesignerInstitute Giprostroymost – Saint Petersburg[5]
Constructed byStroygazmontazh
Construction startFebruary 2016[lower-alpha 1]
Construction endApril 2018 (road bridge)
December 2019 (rail bridge)
Construction cost227.92 billion rubles[6]
Opened2018 (2018) (road bridge)[lower-alpha 2]
2019 (2019)-2020 (2020) (rail bridge)[lower-alpha 3]
Inaugurated15 May 2018 (road bridge)
23 December 2019 (rail bridge)
ReplacesKerch railway bridge,
Kerch Strait ferry line
Statistics
Daily traffic15,000 cars[9]
TollFree of charge[10]
The logo of the Crimean bridge

Having been considered since at least 1903, planning for the bridge began in 2014, after the Russian annexation of Crimea. In January 2015, the multibillion-dollar contract for the construction of the bridge was awarded to Arkady Rotenberg's Stroygazmontazh. Construction of the bridge commenced in February 2016;[lower-alpha 1] the road bridge was inaugurated by Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 May 2018 and opened for non-truck cars on 16 May and for trucks on 1 October.[7][20] The rail bridge was inaugurated on 23 December 2019 and the first scheduled passenger train crossed the bridge on 25 December 2019. The bridge was opened for freight trains on 30 June 2020. A record traffic was recorded on 15 August 2020 and amounted to 36,393 cars.[21]

The bridge was christened the Crimean Bridge after an online vote in December 2017, while "Kerch Bridge" and "Reunification Bridge" were the second and third most popular choices, respectively.[22]

History


Pre-annexation proposals and attempts

The Kerch railway bridge

Proposals to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait were considered from the early 20th century onward.

During World War II the German Organisation Todt built ropeway over the strait. Finished in June 1943 it had daily capacity of 1,000 tons. Construction of combined road and railway bridge started in April 1943, but before it was finished, retreating German troops blew up the already completed parts of the bridge and destroyed the ropeway.

In 1944, the Soviet Union constructed a 4.5-kilometre (2.8 mi) bridge across the strait. This bridge, not designed as permanent, was marred by design and construction errors, and was destroyed by flowing ice in February 1945.[23] The proposal to repair it was quickly dismissed and the remnants of the destroyed bridge were dismantled, with permanent bridge designs envisaged instead.

Soviet proposals

In 1949 the Soviet government ordered the construction of a 5.969-kilometre (3.709 mi) two-tier combined road-rail bridge (two road lanes on the upper tier and two rail tracks on the lower tier) with 40 m clearance below, connecting Yeni-Kale with Chushka Spit, but in 1950 the construction was halted and a ferry line was created instead.[24]

A different version of the fixed link, the Kerch waterworks project («Керченский гидроузел») was developed since the mid-1960s, proposing a system of dams and bridges across the strait. The project was not implemented due to a lack of funding[25] and the collapse of the USSR.[26][27]

Possible alignments of the proposed bridge as of 2002.[28] The red route ("Tuzla" or "Southern") ultimately became the basis for the Crimean Bridge built by Russia, while the cyan route (Cape Fonar – Cape Maly Kut, also known as "Northern route") was the one preliminarily preferred by the Ukrainian government in 2011.

Agreements between Ukrainian and Russian governments

The idea of a Kerch Strait bridge, now intended to become an international fixed link between the independent states of Russia and Ukraine, survived the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but in 1994 the Russian and Ukrainian governments failed to finalize the project.[29] Former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov was a vocal advocate for a highway bridge across the strait, expressing hope that it would bring the Crimeans closer to Russia, both economically and symbolically.[29] Similar hopes were expressed by pro-Russian authorities in Crimea, who hoped that the bridge would contribute to either a "revival of the Silk Road" or to a multinational road along the Black Sea coast.[25][lower-alpha 7]

Construction of the bridge was reconsidered by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine in 2006, and the then-Transport Minister of Ukraine Mykola Rudkovsky stated that he expected the bridge to be a "net positive for Crimea" as it would allow "every tourist visiting Russian Caucasus to visit Crimea as well".[31][32] The issue was discussed by prime ministers of both countries in 2008,[33] and a Transport Strategy of Russia, adopted in that year, envisaged the construction of the Kerch Strait bridge as a high priority issue for the development of the Southern Federal District's transport infrastructure in the period 2016–2030, with design to be created by 2015.[34]

In 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement to build a bridge across the Kerch Strait,[35] and Russia and Ukraine signed a memorandum of mutual understanding on the construction of the bridge on 26 November 2010.[36] A 2011 study by the Ukrainian government announced preliminary preference for a route between Cape Fonar and Cape Maly Kut. Had that project been accomplished, it would have meant construction of a 10.92 km (6.79 mi) bridge link, with 49 km (30 mi) of adjacent roads and 24 km (15 mi) of adjacent railroads.[37]

The shelving of the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement in November 2013 led to increased interest in the construction of a bridge between Crimea and the Taman Peninsula of Russia,[38] and an agreement on the construction of that bridge was signed as a part of the 17 December 2013 Ukrainian–Russian action plan. In late January 2014, the Ukrainian and Russian governments decided that a new joint Ukrainian–Russian company would be commissioned to handle the construction of the bridge, while the Russian state enterprise Russian Highways (Avtodor) would become responsible for the bridge in the long term.[38] Additionally, it was decided a special working group would determine the location and set the technical parameters.[38] The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine estimated that construction would take five years and cost between $1.5 and $3 billion.[38] In early February 2014, Russian Highways (Avtodor) was instructed by the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia to work on a feasibility study to be published in 2015.[38]

In the following months, as relations deteriorated, bilateral negotiations over the bridge collapsed,[39] yet Russia claimed that it expected the December 2013 deals to be honored, and on 3 March prime minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a governmental decree to create a subsidiary of Avtodor to oversee the project.[40] A contest for the engineering survey of the bridge project was announced by that subsidiary on 18 March,[41] but by that time the premise of the contest, which still referred to 2013 agreements,[42] was already outdated.

After annexation and start of construction

Following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014 amid a sharp deterioration in Ukrainian-Russian relations, the Kerch Strait bridge project became an instrumental part of Russian plans to integrate the newly annexed territory into Russia.[13] Although Ukraine lost control of the peninsula, it was still able to isolate it by shutting vital transportation links, since Russia, unlike Ukraine, did not have overland links to Crimea at that time,[43] and using the Kerch Strait ferry line had its limitations: ferry traffic was often halted because of bad weather,[44] and there were often long queues of vehicles.[15]

Aside from practical necessity, the bridge had a symbolic purpose: it was meant to show Russia's resolve to hold Crimea,[13] and as a "physical" attachment of Crimea to Russian territory.[45] No longer a bilateral infrastructure project, design and construction of the Kerch Strait bridge from that time onwards was conducted by Russia unilaterally – and it was only at this time that the construction of a permanent fixed link across the Kerch Strait ceased to be a long-shelved project and became reality.[46]

The announcement that Russia would build a road-rail bridge over the strait was made by the Russian President Vladimir Putin on 19 March 2014,[47][48] just one day after Russia officially claimed Crimea. In January 2015, the contract for construction of the bridge was awarded to the SGM Group, whose owner Arkady Rotenberg (reportedly a close personal friend of Putin) was internationally sanctioned in response to the Russian military's involvement in Ukraine. SGM typically constructed pipelines and had no experience building bridges, according to BBC News.[49]

In April 2014, the Ukrainian government gave Russia six months notice of its withdrawal from the now-defunct bilateral Kerch Bridge agreement.[50] Since then, the Ukrainian government has actively condemned Russian construction of the bridge[51] as illegal[52] because Ukraine, "as a coastal state with regard to the Crimean Peninsula", did not give its consent to such construction,[53] and called on Russia to demolish "those parts of that structure located within temporarily occupied Ukrainian territory".[54] Sanctions were introduced by the United States and the European Union against companies involved in the construction,[55][56] and since December 2018 the United Nations General Assembly repeatedly condemned construction and opening of the bridge as "facilitating the further militarization of Crimea"[57][58] and "restricting the size of ships that can reach the Ukrainian ports on the Azov coast".[59] Russia, on the other hand, asserted that it "shall not ask for anybody’s permission to build transport infrastructure for the sake of the population of Russian regions".[60]

Design


Crimean Bridge on a 2018 Russian postage stamp (top) and a 2019 5 Ruble coin (bottom)
The bridge in April 2018

After the annexation, Russian officials looked at various options for connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland, including a tunnel, but eventually settled on a bridge.[13] The Russian government's draft resolution of 1 September 2014 required the bridge to have four lanes of vehicle traffic and a double-track railway.[citation needed]

An official video from October 2015 contained a CGI concept of the bridge design, annotated with various measurements. It showed a four-lane, flat deck highway bridge running parallel with the separate two-track railway. The main span over the Kerch Strait shipping canal would have a steel arch support, 227 m (745 ft) wide with a 35 m (115 ft) clearance above the water to allow ships to pass under. There would be three segments: from the Taman Peninsula to Tuzla Spit is 7 km (4 mi); across Tuzla Island is 6.5 km (4.0 mi); and from Tuzla Island to the Crimean Peninsula is 5.5 km (3.4 mi) (19 km (12 mi) total).[citation needed]

The final concept was a major change from the initial project considered in late 2014, which had envisaged construction of two bridge links (parallel road and rail bridges between the Taman Peninsula and the Tuzla Spit and a double deck road-rail bridge between Tuzla Island and the Kerch Peninsula) and a causeway on Tuzla Spit.[61] This design was scrapped, the causeway being deemed too risky to rely on given the instability of the Tuzla Spit.[62] The official reason for abandonment of a double deck bridge in favor of two continuous parallel structures was that the latter solution allows for less massive spans and for simultaneous construction of both bridges (rather than having to construct one level of bridge first before starting the second one), an important consideration given demands by the Russian government that road and rail links be operational quickly.[63] The "Tuzla route" was preferred over shorter variants (starting at Chushka Spit), in particular because doing otherwise would have interfered with the still operational ferry line,[64] to the effect of worsening transport communications between Russia and Crimea.[65]

The bridge was built by Stroygazmontazh Ltd (SGM), which had never before built a major bridge. Because of the risk of sanctions, no international insurance company was willing to underwrite the potential $3 billion loss. It was insured instead by a small Crimean company.[66]

The geology of the Kerch Strait is difficult: it has a tectonic fault, and the bedrock is covered by a 60 m (197 ft) layer of silt.[66] About 70 mud volcanoes have been found in the area of the strait.[66] More than 7,000 piles support the bridges; these piles have been driven up to 91 m (300 ft) beneath the water surface.[66] Some of the piles are at an angle to make the structure more stable during earthquakes.[66]

Some experts have expressed doubts that the construction is durable, given the tectonic and sea current conditions in the strait.[66][67]

Construction


Putin leading the first convoy across the bridge, 2018

Preliminary work on the bridge began in May 2015. More than 200 bombs[68] and a few airplanes (including an Ilyushin Il-2[69] and a Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawk[70]) from the World War II era were found in the area during pre-construction clearance. Three temporary bridges were built, to facilitate access (independent of weather and currents) for main construction.[71] By October 2015, the first of the temporary bridges had been constructed, connecting Tuzla Island and Taman Peninsula.[72]

Main construction started in February 2016.[73] The first piles were installed in early 2016,[74] and in April 2016 the first pillar of the road bridge was constructed.[75] The foundations of the road bridge were completed in August 2017.[76] The two shipping canal arches (over the Kerch–Yenikale Canal) were lifted into position in August and October that year.[citation needed] In October 2017, National Guard of Russia Director Viktor Zolotov announced the formation of a new "maritime brigade", intended to protect the bridge as part of Russia's Southern Military District.[77] In December 2017 all road pillars and spans were completed,[78][79] by April 2018 asphalt concrete was laid onto the road bridge,[80] and after some examination the road bridge was deemed ready for operation.[81]

The first train travels along the new Crimean bridge railway, 2019

On 15 May 2018, President Vladimir Putin led a convoy of trucks, driving one himself, across the bridge in an inauguration ceremony.[citation needed] The bridge was opened for non-truck vehicle traffic on 16 May 2018[7] and for trucks on 1 October.[8]

The construction of the rail bridge continued. In June 2018 pile installation was finished[82] and in July 2018 deployment of the rail tracks started.[83]

In October 2018, the Russian Taman Road Administration reported that when one of the railway spans was being lowered into place, it tilted and fell into the sea. This occurred in the sea section between Tuzla Spit and Tuzla Island.[84][85][86][87][88][89] In November 2018 railway pillars were completed.[90]

On 24 March 2019 the bridge's press center reported completion of construction of railway spans,[91] and on 18 July it reported completion of the bridge's rail tracks.[92] In October 2019, the opening for freight trains was postponed until 2020, the official cause was a delay in the construction of the connecting railroad caused by the discovery of an ancient site on the Kerch Peninsula.[93][94] Sale of train tickets across the Kerch Strait started in November 2019.[95] On 18 December 2019 the rail bridge was deemed ready for operation,[96][97] and President Putin formally opened the bridge on 23 December.[98] The first scheduled passenger train crossed the bridge on 25 December 2019,[99] while the bridge was opened for freight trains on 30 June 2020.[100]

The rail bridge design provides the ability to install an overhead railway electrification system "whenever such decision will be made", requiring no rebuilding of the bridge's structures. Pending electrification, the rail bridge is served by diesel locomotives.[101]

Operation and impact


President Putin at the opening ceremony of the road section of the bridge, 15 May 2018

The road bridge, opened in 2018, quickly overtook the Kerch Strait ferry as a preferred route of communication of Crimea with the rest of de facto Russian territory. In its first 12 hours of operation the bridge broke the traffic record of the ferry, which had been established in August 2017.[102] After the bridge was opened for trucks in October 2018, truck transportation via the ferry virtually ceased.[103] After the first full year of operation (May 2018 – May 2019) the road bridge had served three times more traffic than the Kerch Strait ferry had served in the whole of 2017.[104] Since the road bridge is free of charge, in contrast to the ferry, it is claimed that users of the bridge saved more than 16 billion rubles.[105] The bridge is said to have contributed to an increase of the number of tourists visiting the Crimea,[106] with bridge traffic peaking in the summer months – on 5 August 2018 the bridge broke a single-day record for car traffic, with 32,000 vehicles crossing the span,[citation needed] followed by over 33,000 vehicles on 12 August that year[107] and over 35,000 a year later.[108]

Conversely, a decrease of prices in Crimea, which was expected to occur after the opening of the road bridge, did not happen. According to local Russian administration, this situation persists because large retail groups are not working in Crimea due to either risk of being sanctioned or because they deem Crimea a "logistic dead end",[106] although there are expectations that opening of the rail bridge will contribute to a decrease of prices for certain goods.[109]

Ukraine, which has two major ports on the Sea of Azov through which it exports steel and agricultural products,[110] has alleged that the bridge is being used by Russia as part of a creeping hybrid blockade of Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea, and that Russian inspections of ships have risen sharply since the bridge opened in May 2018, some being forced to wait for three days before being allowed through.[111][112] The main span of the bridge is 33 to 35 metres (108 to 115 ft) above sea level; the Ukrainian maritime authority says many ships are too big to pass safely under the bridge.[112][113] The bulk carrier Copan (deadweight tonnage 17,777 tons) solved this problem by cutting off the top of her mast.[113] On 26 October 2018 The Globe and Mail, citing Ukrainian sources, reported that the bridge had reduced Ukrainian shipping from its Sea of Azov ports by about 25%.[110] In November 2018 the area near the bridge became a site of the Kerch Strait incident, in which the Russian navy claimed that three Ukrainian vessels entered Russian territorial waters. Russian forces seized the vessels and arrested their crews. During this time, passage through the Strait was blocked by a large cargo ship, placed under the bridge to prevent passage of other craft.[114][115] In response, Ukraine declared martial law in some regions of the country for 30 days.[114]

Archaeology


A part of a big Greek terracotta statue has been found at the Crimean Bridge construction site, during the underwater digging near the Ak-Burun Cape. According to archaeologists this is a unique finding, since it is the first of its kind found in the northern Black Sea area.[116]

In popular culture


A romantic comedy film was also made by Russian film director Tigran Keosayan about the construction of the bridge called The Crimean Bridge. Made with Love!. It was officially released in cinemas in Russia on 1 November 2018.

Gallery


Notes


  1. Preliminary work started in May 2015, and the main construction (of the link itself) started in February 2016. See below.
  2. Opened on 16 May 2018 for non-truck traffic[7] and on 1 October for trucks[8]
  3. Opened on 25 December 2019 for passenger traffic and on 30 June 2020 for freight trains
  4. Russian-annexed,[11][12] mostly internationally recognised as part of Ukraine.[13][14]
  5. Entire fixed link, including small causeways at the ends. The bridges themselves are 18.1 km (11.2 mi) (rail)[15] and about 17 km (10.6 mi) (road) long[16]
  6. Crimean Bridge is also often considered to be the longest bridge in Russia,[15] but this is applicable only for the de facto Russian territory, including Crimea, since most of the bridge is located within the (Autonomous) Republic of Crimea. Taman–Tuzla Spit part, lying in undisputed Russian territory, is only 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) long,[16] which makes it shorter than President Bridge in Ulyanovsk Oblast (5.825 kilometres (3.619 mi))
  7. After the 2014 annexation of Crimea, Russia continued to support the inclusion of the peninsula into that proposed road, claiming that such an option would be economically more feasible, but Ukraine, previously supportive of the project, now stridently opposed it.[30]

References


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Further reading