Friday, February 7, 2014

Does the world's most expensive road deserve a gold medal?

How do Russia's major transportation projects compare to Kansas

Before athletes can hit the slopes to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics, they will be traveling on the “world’s most expensive road” to get there.

Sochi, Russia, home of this year’s Olympics, is located on the Black Sea coast, which isn’t suitable for skiing and snowboarding.  Thus, a 31-mile rail and highway project had to be constructed to get athletes from Adler, where the Olympics start, to Krasnaya Polyana, where the mountain-based sports will be held.  With a reported construction cost of $8.7 billion or about $280 million per mile, the project has drawn considerable criticism for its high price tag. 

“You could have paved this road with five million tons of gold or caviar and the price would have been the same,” said Boris Nemtsov, a Russian statesman.  

In fact, the Russian imprint of Esquire magazine actually estimated that for the sum the government spent on the road, it could have been paved entirely with a centimeter-thick coating of beluga caviar.

The Russian government has drawn considerable criticism for its alleged mismanagement of Winter Olympic Games budget.  The original budget was $12 billion when Russian won its bid in 2007.  Since then, costs have ballooned to over $50 billion making it the most expensive Olympics ever.  The substantial overrun of the budget has brought accusations of corruption and waste on the Kremlin.

To help put some of these costs in perspective, since 2010, Kansas has spent approximately $2.1 billion in transportation projects, which has allowed for more than 7,500 miles of road to be improved and over 400 bridges to be repaired and replaced.  However, these Kansas projects were mostly small, maintenance projects and certainly didn’t require drilling through mountains like this Russian project did.  Thus, a more accurate assessment would be to compare some of Russia’s and Kansas most complex/expensive projects.  Here’s how they stack up—we’ll let you decide who got the better deal.

What exactly goes into an $8.7 billion road?              
Defenders of the Russian project would argue that it is the complexity of the project that contributes to its cost.  The 31-mile combined road and railway line, part of which runs through Sochi National Park, featured many engineering challenges.  The route features 71 total bridges and flyers to help preserve the Park’s unique landscape.  However, the greatest challenge was to complete the 12 mountain tunnels, which total about 18 miles in length.  Both rail and road tunnels were built.  The completion of this project has greatly reduced travel times.  Prior to this project, a trip from Adler to Krasnaya Polyona could take anywhere from one to three hours depending on traffic—it now takes 30 minutes by high-speed rail.

This is a view of  where the Johnson County Gateway Project will be built. The vertical highway is I-435 and the horizontal route is I-35.

The $288 million Johnson County Gateway Project is the most expensive, single project Kansas has ever done.
Construction will begin this spring on the Gateway Project, which is an improvement of the I-435/I-35/K-10 interchange in Johnson County.  More than 230,000 travel through this interchange daily making it one of the most congested areas in the state.  And it’s expected to grow to over 380,000 by 2040, which is why improvements are needed. To meet these capacity needs, 55 highway-lane miles, 27 bridges and 68 retaining walls will be built and six interchanges will be reconstructed.  In addition to being the most complex and expensive project for the state, it’s also the first ever design-build project and is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

SK Most, one of the contractors on the $8.7 billion road project, also built a $1 billion bridge project in Vladivostock.
The 3,887-feet Russky Island Bridge connects Russky Island with the city of Vladivostok. It is the longest cable-stayed suspension bridge in the world and reaches 70 meters above water level. The bridge crosses the Eastern Bosphorus Strait, linking with the mainland and island, home to around 5,000 inhabitants.  The bridge, which has four driving lanes, was completed in 2012 in preparation for the Asia-Pacific Economic Community Summit.

The $84 million Amelia Earhart Memorial Bridge was the largest in Kansas history.
Missouri and Kansas shared the cost of this new four-lane bridge that is located between Atchison, Kan. and Winthrop, Mo.  The new bridge, which opened in 2012, spans 2,545 feet and is distinguished by its double steel arches on the main river span and aesthetic lighting. It replaced a two-lane structure, which was built in 1938, and could no longer handle some of today’s larger truck loads and farm implements.

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