Belarus: Better Connections Through Better Roads
March 26, 2014
In 2013, reconstruction of 53 kilometers of the strategic M5 motorway was completed by Minskavtodor-Center, the main implementing agency of Belarus’ Ministry of Transport. The M5 connects Minsk, the capital, with Gomel, the country’s second largest city. The reconstructed road is now wider, with four lanes instead of two, its road surface is better, and many safety features have been added that allow for safer driving at higher speeds. More than 15,000 cars and trucks use the M5 each day, but officials say this number will certainly increase.
The shorter travel time between Minsk and Gomel now presents new opportunities for business people like Aleksandr Kotov, who lives in Gomel and runs a business in Minsk. He commutes between the two cities twice a week. “The road is comfortable, clean and clear. The motorway’s quality is excellent. All these improvements have considerably enhanced safety,” he says.
The road is comfortable, clean and clear. The motorway’s quality is excellent. All these improvements have considerably enhanced safety.
Connecting Belarus to the World
Reconstructing the road has been a massive project. Beldortsentr engineer Aleksandr Kononov, who worked on the project, says that planning the 53-kilometer route, redesigning surrounding wild-life areas, consulting the local community, and changing old pipes and cables along the way meant a lot of work and required a lot of financing.
A US$150 million World Bank loan funded the section of the M5 road that connects Pukhovichi to Bobruysk, in central Belarus. The motorway is of significant importance to the people who live near it – approximately 10 percent of Belarus’ population. Economists argue that the road can play an important role in helping poor people to participate in the broader economy.
Kononov says that the road improvements will reduce transport costs for road users by 6 percent and save at least seven lives each year. “We wanted to bring our road in line with the world’s best standards. I hope our drivers will feel that and enjoy travelling by this road – it’s the best of what we, as builders, can hope for.”
The Ministry of Transport is also rolling out electronic tolling of trucks across the national road network, including the M5. To complement this initiative, another new road feature, also supported by the World Bank, will be a “weight-in-motion” system, or WIM, which will be an automated system that monitors truck loads and cargo. With WIM sensors embedded within the road surface of the M5, most heavy vehicles can be screened and assessed as they cruise down the highway. WIM also measures loads at fixed weigh stations and via mobile units: overloaded trucks will be identified, stopped, and fined.
The combination of an electronic toll system and WIM is critical to raising money to help finance the construction of new roads, as well as to maintaining the country’s road network. Preventing over-loaded vehicles from using the roads will also help protect the network from unnecessary deterioration.
We wanted to bring our road in line with the world’s best standards. I hope our drivers will feel that and enjoy travelling by this road – it’s the best what we, as builders, can hope for.
A Frog-Friendly Road
Biologists have praised the stringent environmental standards applied during reconstruction that preserved the delicate habitat along the road. Ruslan Novitskiy of the Belarus National Academy of Sciences says that the new road has a unique infrastructure, allowing for preservation of the surrounding habitat and endangered species such as the great crested newt (triturus cristatus) and broad-leaved garlic (allium ursinum). Workers dug four new ponds for crested newts during the road expansion, and replanted patches of broad-leaved garlic and other special plants in which the newts lay their eggs.
Underneath the motorway, engineers built special tunnels for migrating frogs. Builders also put up fences on both sides of the road where it cuts through lush green forests in order to reduce the risk of an animal leaping onto the road, which might cause danger to passing motorists or to itself.
We would like to build upon the experience we had working with our partners in the Bank and continue improving our country’s road network for the real benefit of our people.
Roads for the Future
Belarus, a landlocked country of 9.5 million people, has a road network that exceeds 86,000 kilometers in total length. About 15,500 kilometers of major highways carry the bulk of freight and passenger traffic.
As they prepare for new reconstruction projects, Minskavdor-Center’s Chief Engineer, Sergei Isakov, hopes that cooperation with the World Bank will continue. “We would like to build upon the experience we had working with our partners in the Bank and continue improving our country’s road network for the real benefit of our people,” he says.
Improvements to the road system not only benefit Belarusians, but also the entire region, ensuring a safe and efficient movement of goods and people from country to country.
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