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The new silk road will bypass Nizhny Novgorod

Tags: Essay | Autodor | Location | Toll road | Transport | Logistics | Regional economy | Silk way | Moscow | Nizhniy Novgorod | Kazan | St Petersburg | China

In April 2019 a decision was made to build a toll road Moscow-Kazan. It is planned that in October this year the design of the route will begin, and the construction itself should be completed by 2024. This road should become part of the high-speed transport corridor Europe - Western China. The main surprise was the trace - the highway should go much south of Nizhny Novgorod and its agglomeration - one of the largest in Russia.

A route with a total length of 729 kilometers will begin at the alignment of the existing M7 Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod-Kazan highway, undock from it in the Vladimir region and then pass through Murom (Vladimir region), Arzamas and Sergach (Nizhny Novgorod region), Chuvash city Kanash, then crosses the Volga along the new bridge south of Kazan and ends in the capital of Tatarstan. It is assumed that the average speed will be 120 kilometers per hour - due to this it will be possible to reduce the travel time from Moscow to Kazan from current 12 to 6.5 hours. The cost of construction will more than 500 billion rubles - most will be provided by the state, the rest are private investors (which have not yet been found).

Moscow-Kazan Toll Road Route

Route of the toll road Moscow - Kazan

The route will pass far from Nizhny Novgorod (more than 100 kilometers to the south, or about 1.5 hours on the road along existing roads). You will have to go even further to the highway from the troubled northern territories of the Nizhny Novgorod region. Among the victims is also the capital of Chuvashia, Cheboksary and Kovrov - an industrial center and the second most important city in the Vladimir region. All these cities are located in the alignment (or close to it) of the existing M7 highway and receive economic benefits from such a neighborhood. The new expressway, however, will bypass them.

Why was this solution chosen?

It would seem that the goal of any highway is to connect large cities. Moreover, this is true for the road, which is being built with the involvement of investors' funds - they need to return their investments. It is unlikely that anyone has doubts that the 1.5-million-strong Nizhny Novgorod agglomeration (together with Dzerzhinsk, Balakhna, Kstovo and Bor), as well as half a million Cheboksary, will be able to produce a large cargo flow than economically insignificant Murom, Arzamas and Kanash. With the selected route option, most of their cargo will remain on the old M7 highway, and the new highway will only intercept cargoes to / from Tatarstan (a).

Maybe it's the distance of the track? Indeed, the length of the new route will be 729 kilometers, while the length of the existing M7 highway is about 815 kilometers — almost 100 kilometers longer. On this route (Moscow - Murom - Arzamas - Kazan), for example, there is railway to Kazan - they also go past Nizhny Novgorod and Cheboksary.

Siberian (tea) tract

Siberian (tea) tract

The famous tea (Siberian) route passed through a similar route in past centuries - by the way, trade with China was carried out along it. Arzamas was founded immediately after the accession of Kazan to Russia - as an important transit route from the capital to Kazan - historically this is main function of Arzamas. By the way, the option with tracing through the south of the Nizhny Novgorod region also arose during the discussion of another transport megaproject - the Moscow-Kazan High-Speed ​​Railway (however, it was never the main one due to the obviously low passenger traffic). In general, it is difficult to argue - if the task is to find the shortest route from Moscow to Kazan, then Murom - Arzamas - Kanash route is the most suitable.

It is important to say that this road in not an independent project, it is part of a global transport megaproject - a toll road Europe - Western China. The desire of the project initiator - China - is quite simple - he wants to build a highway from the western regions of his country to Europe. Today, most of the Chinese goods are delivered to Europe by sea via the Suez Canal. The travel time is 36 days - it is too expensive and long. The Trans-Siberian Railway partly helps - but it rests on Northern China, while the main economic activity of the China is concentrated in the central and southeastern regions of the country. As a solution to this problem, it is proposed to build a high-speed road - it will pass through the territory of China, Kazakhstan and Russia and ultimately should be completed in the Hamburg. The road should allow the Chinese to flood the European market with their goods. Russia joined the project back in 2008 (our country really wants to make money on Chinese transit). At the moment, most of the planned route on the territory of Kazakhstan and China has already been built, but our country is far behind - only the first part of the route has been built - a toll road between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The Nizhny Novgorod and Chuvash cargoes obviously do not play a big role in such a global concept and absolutely do not affect the economy of the project. Russian government decided to sacrifice in order to reduce travel time by 1 hour. It is obvious that Russia plans to make money on Chinese transit here, there are other channels for domestic transportation around the country. On the other hand, 1 hour per hook to the capital of the Volga region hardly plays any significant role - the whole way of goods from China to Germany should take about 16 days. It can be assumed that the Chinese would have no difference, the competitiveness of the route does not suffer much from an extra hour on the way.

Generally speaking, the proposed version of the Russian part of the route is not the only possible option. In fact, only the end point of the route is fixed - the Sagarchin border point in the Orenburg region, where there is a docking with the Kazakh part of the route. Even a simple look at the map makes it clear that not the shortest option is chosen:

Transport Corridor Europe - Western China

Transport Corridor Europe - Western China

The biggest hook is just a zigzag towards Kazan. And this hook (if measured in kilometers and hours) is much more than a possible "arrival" in Nizhny Novgorod. Obviously, there is a faster trace option - it passes through Samara, Ulyanovsk and Saransk and was proposed by the Center for Strategic Research. Moreover, an even more aggressive option is possible (it is was offered by a private company Meridian, which planned to build the route entirely at its own expense) - through the Smolensk, Bryansk, Lipetsk and Orenburg regions. This is essentially the shortest possible route - but it will even bypass Moscow. If we talk about the European end of the route, it was also not necessary to build a road to Hamburg through Petersburg - it would be faster via Belarus (Brest) (but apparently, it was decided to reduce the number of buffer states along the way, which would increase geopolitical risks). In sum, the length and time for Rosavtodor in this project were important, but this was far from the only factor.

Then why they sacrificed Nizhny Novgorod? Probably, the decisive factor is most likely the volume of capital expenditures. The railway high-speed railway project was rejected (or rather, temporarily blocked) just because of the exorbitant cost - it cost at least 1,000 billion rubles, that is, twice as much as the planned highway. As in the case of high-speed railway, for the toll road, the main expenses are paid by the state - and such projects become too expensive even for him. Also, additional reason is the requirements for traffic intensity.

In the chosen option, the road will go through forests and fields. Murom, Arzamas, Kanash are all economically insignificant points around which there is practically nothing. In the case of Nizhny Novgorod and Cheboksary, road would have to break through massive agglomerations - there are probably much more utilities, expensive commercial facilities and land. All this would have to be redeemed, which would greatly increase the cost of the project. For example, the toll road Moscow - St Petersburg on its way met only one more or less large city - Tver. A detour of Nizhny Novgorod would have come out many times more expensive - for example, it is still de facto absent from bypass city road, forcing heavy trucks to follow through the city. The Nizhny Novgorod authorities have been building bypass city road for several decades, but they cannot stretch the project alone.

In addition, the toll highway business model itself suggests that speed will be its main advantage. The largest Russian free highways pass through many settlements. This increases the intensity of traffic (traffic jams) at the entrances to them, increases the number of ramps and branches, makes it necessary to set traffic lights and reduce speed. Conversely, if the route runs in sparsely populated areas, it is ideal for transit. Thus, the exclusion of Nizhny Novgorod should obviously increase, according to the plan of the authorities, traffic intensity.

Summarizing, we can say that the Russian authorities tried to find a compromise solution - to ensure the required speed and not to forget the largest Russian cities. Perhaps the main beneficiary in this story is Kazan - de facto getting a good opportunity to grow to the third city in Russia.

Why is it such a big problem that there will be road?

When reading the above thoughts, a quite reasonable objection may arise - what is the actual problem? There will be no highway in the city, it will be possible to leave the highway and drive a little more than 100 kilometers along a regular road - this does not radically change the situation. In the end, in Russia there are many other cities past which important routes pass - and nothing, they live. They live, but badly.

It is difficult to call it as the unwritten economy law, but the trend is obvious - successful and wealthy cities arise at the intersection of the largest trade routes.

The significance of specific methods of transportation of goods (water, rail, horse-drawn, road transport) at different times is different, but the dependence of well-being on the proximity of logistics channels is obvious. The closer you are to the most important trade routes, the more investment you get in production and trade, and the higher the incomes of the local population in the long run period.

There are a lot of such examples. The Trans-Siberian railway, which was constructed in the 19th century, bypassed the largest economic center of Siberia at that time - Tomsk (only a branch was built to Tomsk). Instead, the road was laid through the small village of Novosibirsk, which eventually grew to the third largest city in Russia and the most important city in the region, and the significance of Tomsk declined over time. Russia itself as a state arose on the so-called path from the Varangians to the Greeks - the path which the Mediterranean countries used to trade with Northern Europe. It was on this path that the first Russian cities — Kiev and Great Novgorod — were founded, and as the significance of this path lost, their economic power decreased. All the poorest countries in the world have no access to the sea - which means that they are very limited in international trade and weakly attractive for placing production in them. Finally, Nizhny Novgorod itself owed its rise to the trade routes in the 19th century - the city stands at the confluence of the two most important rivers of the Russian Plain (the Oka and Volga), and before the massive construction of railways and roads, it was the waterways that accumulated the largest traffic flows.

Of course, logistics is not the only factor, the concentration of manufacturing industries with high added value, the level of education and innovation, and many other factors are also important. But, nevertheless, this is one of the most important factors, which has been repeatedly confirmed by history.

And can toll roads in general become an important transport artery?

In the modern world (at least in domestic transportation), two logistics channels hold the first place - the automobile and the railway. It is they who take over the main freight traffic. Toll roads are a relatively new sphere of transportation for Russia, but nevertheless, its potential can be highly appreciated.

When the discussion of the Moscow-Kazan railway high-speed railway was actively developing, many immediately understood that this was a stillborn project.

It demanded a huge capital investment in infrastructure (as previously written, twice as much as the road project). The main reason for the high cost of high-speed rail is the need to ensure the most direct (with a minimum of twists and turns) train runs, which imposes serious restrictions on the route and makes the project more expensive by purchasing large amounts of private land and buildings (automobile road has less restrictions on route geometry). It is also important - the high-speed railway is focused only on passenger traffic (and it is small and people are not very rich on the chosen route). In addition, it was obviously a dead end project - the cost of construction was such that to expect the construction of a road to China on a reasonable time horizon was, to put it mildly, not realistic. Moreover, even if the highway to China were built, passenger transportation is clearly not something that a megaproject can pay for. People do not travel as often (as cargoes), and anyone logistics mega-project in the world (such as the Panama or Suez Canals) has never been built for tourists or passengers.

With a toll road, a completely different story. It is obvious that its economy will be built on freight traffic. Moreover, judging by the leaking information, there are even plans to launch unmanned wagons on this highway. It is clear that personal car owners will also ride, but they are not the only source of income.

Yes, toll roads are not yet familiar to Russians and cause rejection (they are not used to paying for them). Yes, there are risks that they will continue to massively choose longer routes - even to the detriment of their own time. But even now it’s clear that not everything is so bad. The toll road Moscow-Petersburg (M11, also part of the Europe-West Beijing corridor) works quite well - there is traffic on it, people are using it (even though this is just another transport option between the two capitals). People and entrepreneurs appreciate the opportunity to pay from 2000 rubles for the opportunity to arrive 3 hours earlier.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a freight or passenger carrier businessman. You have to pay for driving along the highway - even if not 2 thousand rubles, but 5 thousand. It is expensive. But if you count on the basis of a ton of cargo or passenger space - the additional cost is not so critical. Instead, it is possible to save on the driver’s salary, possibly on fuel (due to less speed at low speeds) and fines (fewer speed violations). But even this is not the most important thing. The turnover of vehicles is increasing. If earlier, to take a ton of cargo, for example, it took 10 hours, now, for example, 5. This means that the same machine manages to make more flights. That means less cars are needed. If the project is financed by borrowed funds, this is a direct saving on interest expenses, since less credit can be attracted. At some point, the benefits outweigh the extra costs and the business begins to realize that it is profitable for him.

There are other pluses. There are so many businesses for which speed of delivery is important. These are, as a rule, food producers and agricultural enterprises. If you bring fresh berries to Moscow, the cost of transportation may be less important to you than the speed of product delivery to the consumer in the key market. Otherwise, the loss of goods increases and this is much higher costs. As a result, having the option with a toll road, you can choose locations that are more remote from Moscow - which means saving on the cost of land and real estate and labor costs. As a result, in many cases this can also be useful.

As a result, with the growth of the toll road network, it is likely that part of the freight traffic will go there. So, locations near key routes will be in demand for business. The same Nizhny Novgorod region could well export agricultural products and timber to China — there are many territories not involved in the economic turnover in the region.

What to do?

It seems that in Nizhny Novgorod the importance of toll roads is not so highly rated. There is virtually no public discussion (statements by authorities). Media reports contain only factual information - a road with certain budget will be through certain cities. The news is dominated by purely small-town topics - the construction of a tourist funicular to the local Kremlin and the reconstruction of one of the parks for the 800th anniversary of the city. Even in Kovrov (which also bypassed by the road) there are statements by officials and media publications that resent the reason that the industrial city was ignored and traffic was sent to the county Murom (which is nothing more than a tourist center).

It is clear that it was unlikely that the city had the opportunity to lobby the route in the Government. Since the question would certainly rest against the growth of the construction budget, which is apparently limited at the federal level, since Avtodor himself needs to show (including investors) the payback and attractiveness of the project. The maximum that could be achieved was to move the road a little north or to build a toll branch road from Murom or Arzamas to Nizhniy Novgorod. Something similar, it seems, was possible for Vladimir (although this did not get into the public debate) - the shortest route, if you look only at the map, was to bypass the city and go in the Gus-Khrustalny district, but, nevertheless, Vladimir did hit the road. However, this is only a version - the road could go into Vladimir in order not to pass through the Meshchera National Park and not violate the ecology of this region (and not to give the project a negative background on the public agenda, as people usually worry about forests more than their own future incomes), and economic considerations have nothing to do with it.

Nizhniy Novgorod should only hope that the new highway will unload the existing M7, which should also affect the logistics component of the region’s investment attractiveness.

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