Black Sea Ring Highway (HWBSR)

On September 27, 2006, the governments of member-countries of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization (BSЕC) signed the Memorandum Of Understanding concerning the Highway Ring Project “Black Sea Ring” (HWBSR). Lets talk about how this can affect Sochi…

The Idea
The idea is to build a “high capacity highway consisting of two physically separated thoroughfares each of which will have at least two lanes” around the Black Sea, linking major cities along the way. And then to link other major cities nearby, and cities from the countries that do not have access to the Black Sea, but are located in the area (such as Greece, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) and are interested in expanding economic cooperation with BSЕC members.

The main route is planned to run through the following cities: Istanbul (Turkey) – Samsun (Turkey) – Trabzon (Turkey) – Batumi (Georgia) – Poti (Georgia) – Novorossiisk (Russia) – Rostov-on-Don (Russia) – Taganrog (Russia) – Mariupol (Ukraine) – Melitopol (Ukraine) – Odessa (Ukraine) – Chisinau (Moldova) – Bucharest (Romania) – Khaskovo (Bulgaria) – Edirne (Turkey) – Istanbul (Turkey) and Komotini (Greece) – Alexandrupolis (Greece) – Istanbul (Turkey).

Something like this obviously would have a positive economic effect on every city along the way of the highway. The good news is that governments understand it. The bad news – they only now got to signing a piece of paper saying that they understand it. And even if they signed “the beginning of the construction” papers, decades will pass before something like this exists. I’ll say no more on the global details of the project. You can read the “draft memorandum of understanding for the coordinated development of Black Sea Ring Highway” on the Russian Ministry Of the Transportation’s website. But I do want to talk about how this may affect Sochi.

Is Sochi along the way?
It has to be. There is no other way to get from Poti to Novorossiisk – inaccessible mountains on one side, the sea on the other. The only way is along the coast line, through Abkhazia into Sochi. And this is one of the problems the HWBSR project faces, as Abkhazia being officially part of Georgia has been an independent country for the past 13 years, and in pretty bad relationships with Georgia.

But let’s talk about Sochi – Sochi needs this. Today, the only way to get to Sochi from north is by so called “serpantin” – a two lane road (one lane each way) going up and down, left and right, with no straight strips to pass slow moving vehicles. It’s used by passenger cars, delivery and construction trucks (which often get stuck when they can’t handle the load up the mountain), and anything else that moves by land. And it’s over 170km long! It takes four to five hours to get from Dzhubga (where it starts) to Sochi’s center on a passenger car, and it’s not a fun drive. It is also the only way to get to Abkhazia by land from Russian side. So there is a great need for a highway to/from Sochi. The only way to build one, though, is to build a strip of bridges and tunnels, which is very expensive and time consuming.

According to the news report i’ve seen in July of this year, this need is acknowledged by our government and planning of this project has already started. This road will consist of 40 highways and bridges, and with cost of 500 billion rubles (~19 billion US dollars, which state gov’t hopes to receive from the federal budget) it will take ten years to complete. I personally don’t believe they’ll get this kind of money, and that they’ll build this in 10 years. It took them 10 years to build a road to Krasnaya Polyana and the same amount of time to build an extention for the road around Sochi’s center. So, unfortunately, unless Sochi gets the Olympics, this will not happen any time soon. And I really, really hope im wrong on this.

And there’s more bad news – having this kind of access to the city will undoubtedly increase number of cars in the city, where toady is already impossible to drive during summer just because of the number of cars on city roads. But this is a separate issue I’ll talk about some other time.

And the last topic i’d like to bring up is the environmental issue, importance of which probably isn’t limited only to Sochi, but is also important to most areas along the proposed Black Sea Ring Highway, since many of them are resort areas. In case of existence of such highway, traffic in the resort areas will be significantly higher then it is today. And since HWBSR is proposed not only to passenger cars, but to commercial vehicles as well (which are usually a lot less environment-friendly than passenger cars), this will bring a great deal of noise and pollution to our city.

So, economic benefits & easier life for the drivers, or possibly harder life for city residents and guests. Which will prevail, i guess, depends on the implementation.

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