Artem Zagorodnov in Kazan -
In contrast to air travellers arriving at Kazan's aging international airport, visitors by road enjoy a remarkably smooth and efficiently-managed highway to the centre of the city. Hardly anyone speeds, as most of the route is monitored by automatic cameras, and the route passes through no fewer than four two-story interchanges being built construction (there are 12 total currently being built in the city) ahead of the upcoming triad of international sporting events coming here.
"All of the upcoming events will stimulate the development of transportation infrastructure," Tatarstan Economy Minister Midkhat Shagiakhmetov explains.
But while the 2013 Kazan Universiade, 2015 World Swimming Championships and 2018 World Cup are catalysts for developing the republic's transport infrastructure, Tatarstan's government has bigger ambitions. "We're at the intersection of the country's most important transportation arteries," Shagiakhmetov notes.
And Tatarstan's government intends to take full advantage of this geographical position. "Our priorities are rebuilding Kazan and Begishevo airports, organising inter-modal transportation from Kazan station to the airport, developing the fleets of Tatarstan-based airlines, improving port and railway infrastructure - especially in the Kamsky economic region - and developing bus and automobile terminals," says Shagiakhmetov.
Hub of activity
A few kilometres to the west of Kazan, the scale of the minister's ambitions becomes clear: at the mouth of the Sviyaga River, a 1,200-hectare empty plot of land is being developed to become the largest transportation hub in the Volga region. Russia's deputy transportation minister, Victor Olersky, called it "the first such logistics centre in Russia."
At a cost of RUB11.6bn, split 50/50 between private investors and the state, the Svijashsk Interregional Multimodal Logistical Center will include warehouses to store various cargo types, a port, railway terminal, truck depot, hotels and restaurants. With Russia's impending membership of the World Trade Organization, officials hope this will become the major import/export hub for cargo headed to and from the entire Volga region, a major centre of manufacturing. There are also hopes of a Europe-Western China transportation corridor forming over the next decade, for which Svijashsk would be an ideal link. Last year, a 40-km road linking the M5 and M7 federal highways - allowing traffic travelling east or west to bypass Kazan altogether - was unveiled by Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov and formed an important link in the corridor.
The Svijashsk project is slated to be complete by 2013 and become profitable within seven years. Shagiakhmetov hopes that Tatarstan's location along the Volga River - which connects it with automobile-producing hubs Nizhny Novgorod and Togliatti, and industrial giants Samara and Volgograd (all over 1m people) - and along the M7 federal highway (which comes from Moscow and eventually heads into Siberia) will generate the traffic necessary to make Svijashsk a success. "Tatarstan is at the intersection of the country's most important highways that connect north and south, east and west," says Shagiakhmetov.
All this work, of course, comes with its own set of problems, though users accept that some inconvenience is unavoidable to gain the long-term benefits. "The whole city's stuck in gridlock because of all the construction going on," says Alexei, an investment banker who splits his time between Kazan and Moscow. "The traffic jams are temporary I assume... [and though] Kazan's roads are not as good as Moscow's yet, I think the Games will change that."
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