The Crimean Bridge has been finished six months early. On Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin hopped into a bright orange truck to open the 19-kilometer bridge, the longest in Europe, beating the Vasco da Gama Bridge in Lisbon, Portugal.
The Russian president drove a similar orange Kamaz truck over the bridge. Photo from Kamaz Engines
According to a Kremlin statement, the bridge will be open to traffic on May 16. In the past it was difficult to reach the peninsula. From southern Russia long queues of vehicles had waited to board ferries, which stopped during winter storms. The easiest mode of transportation was by air.
Food supplies to Crimea previously had to be shipped in. Now the bridge will play an important role in reducing the region’s reliance on sea transport. The four lanes of automobile traffic can accommodate 14 million people crossing per year.
The Russian president saw his approval ratings soaring above 80 per cent with Crimea’s referendum to rejoin Russia. But the Russian company Stroygazmontazh that won the construction contract, was targeted for US and EU sanctions after Western powers denounced the reunification.
President Putin, dressed casually, praised the dilligent workers when he arrived at the other end. “I congratulate you on this historic holiday. It’s historic because in different epochs, back in the times of our father the tsar, people dreamed about building this bridge. Finally thanks to your talent and work, this project, this wonder, has been completed.”
Some 15 000 workers were employed on the 27-month project spanning the notoriously windy Kerch Strait. The 6 000-tonne twin central arches was constructed on shore and then moved into place by boats. A twin railway bridge has been scheduled to open in December 2019.
The president said the bridge would give “the economy of Crimea…new momentum” and “raise people’s living standards”. He added: “We will go on working on similar projects throughout the entire country.”
The Russian leader, who in the past had successfully manned a fighter jet, an ultralight aircraft, a minisubmarine, and a fast moving racing truck, smiled and looked relaxed at the wheel of the orange Kamaz.
EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman complained that the construction of the bridge “constitutes another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by Russia”.