Russia could build a tunnel to Crimea rather than a bridge as planned previously, following Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in March 2014.
Crimea has no land connection to Russia, but at one point is separated from Russia by the Kerch Straits, at the narrowest point only 3.1km wide, and reaching only 18 metres in depth. Plans to build a bridge from the Russian side to replace a ferry have been frequently mooted in the past, but never implemented.
Russia's three year budget 2015-2017 now provides funding for a four-lane bridge with two railway lines costing RUB228bn ($5.6bn) including access roads.
But Russia's Crimean Affairs minister Oleg Savelyev said on October 30 that the Kremlin is also weighing up the building of a tunnel, which could be cheaper.
"I do not rule out the possibility of a principle change, such as a tunnel instead of a bridge, changes in the route that will be selected, among other things," Savelyev said. Savelyev added that the decision would be made on the grounds of cost and speed. "As soon as possible," Savelyev answered when asked for the expected date of the decision, as quoted by Interfax.
International consulting firm Vision Transportation Group, which is also advising Turkey on construction of the Mamaray tunnel project under the Bosphorus, has suggested building a tunnel, according to Russian officials cited by business daily Vedomosti. According to the Vedomosti sources, a tunnel would cost only RUB80bn, not including road connections. Likewise Putin associate Gennady Timchenko, owner of infrastructure firm Stroitransgaz, has proposed building a tunnel for RUB40bn.
A further complicating factor in the deliberations is the possible future normalisation of relations with Ukraine, making either a bridge or tunnel unnecessary, since the land bridge to Crimea from Russia via Ukraine would be restored. At the same time, even a bridge or tunnel would substantially alleviate supply problems currently experienced by Crimea, says expert Nataliya Zubarevich, as quoted by Vedomosti.
A tunnel might also be preferable to a bridge on safety grounds, say experts. The Kerch Straits were hit by a severe storm as late as 2007 that caused a number of shipwrecks. The straits also freeze over in winter.
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