A new toll motorway stretching 1,250 miles across Russia has been given the go-ahead.
The Vedimosti business newspaper reports that the Kremlin has approved the proposal, and that work has already begun around the Sagarchin frontier post at the eastern end of the road.
At the western end, the four-lane highway will enter Belarus close to Smolensk, halfway between Moscow and Minsk. It will run through some deprived areas of the world’s biggest country, which have been dubbed “Russia’s Rust Belt”.
The new toll link is expected to cost around 600bn roubles (£7.5bn), and will be built using a public-private partnership – with guarantees to investors about returns. The main source of revenue is likely to be trucks between Europe and China. It is expected to take some of the freight that currently uses the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Suez Canal.
The Meridian Highway is the western component of a new Russia-Western China highway, stretching over 5,000 miles and ultimately connecting the ports of Hamburg and Shanghai.
It is one of a number of projects promoted by Beijing as part of China’s Belt & Road Initiative.
For Western visitors travelling by car, the new road will improve access to western Russia and should provide vastly improved connections between Europe and the central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, eastern Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – though visa rules for both Russia and Belarus are currently difficult.
The original Meridian Highway was an early 20th-century US “auto trail” between North Dakota and Texas.
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