Some countries build toll roads to alleviate traffic congestion. Some countries build free roads. But only one country, Russia, builds no roads at all.
That favorite saying of traffic experts might be an exaggeration, but not by much.
Moscow will spend 32.2 billion rubles just more than $1 billion -- on road construction and repairs this year. The funds will be used to build a new stretch of road and two overpasses on the third ring road, according to Yury Roslyak, the deputy mayor and head of economic and development policy.
But that is just a drop in the bucket to what is needed to relieve the smog-producing, stop-and-go traffic jams on roads in the capital and surrounding oblast, experts argue.
No money has been allocated for constructing new roads or developing existing roads linking the city center with more-distant districts such as Butovo and Mitino. The outer districts are where the most serious problems occur, with huge traffic jams slowing movement daily, critics point out.
A system of toll roads has been proposed to solve the problem, and specific projects have actually been drawn up. But professionals contend that this is not a panacea, considering problems of corruption and a lack of economic transparency.
The 2004 development program for Moscow focuses on repairing existing roads. City officials have plans to build only one new road construction is set to begin this year on joining the Zvenigorod Shosse to the third ring road and eventually extending it to the MKAD outer ring road.
There are also plans to expand the third ring road tunnel under Leningradsky Prospect and build a tunnel under Sushchevsky Val. But it is not enough, experts say, especially since there are no plans to extend the road network in new districts such as Kurkino and Butovo. Or, rather, there are plans, but they will not be realized until the distant future, if at all.
"We have plans to build a large number of roads," said Yury Fyodorov, deputy director of Soyuzdorproyekt. "Yaroslavskoye Shosse should be extended to 10 lanes, and there are plans to extend Leningradskoye Shosse out to the turnoff to Sheremtyevo Airport. But all these projects are frozen for lack of money, and only the project to reconstruct Kievskoye Shosse is making any progress."
Mosavtodor, the organization responsible for building roads in the Moscow Oblast, said the road situation in the oblast is fine and that it builds 50 km of new roads each year. But specialists from Soyuzdorproyekt say this is insignificant and that the oblast needs closer to 1,000 km a year. In any case, even the promised 50 km usually do not in fact get built.
"People here often mix up road construction and road repairs," an industry source said. "We are behind everyone -- developed countries and developing countries -- in terms of road construction.
"We still have hardly any real roads except the MKAD and the third ring road," the source added. "You would think we could build a proper Moscow-St. Petersburg highway, if even just to make the presidents life easier, but even this is not getting done.
"We buy foreign cars that can do 140 km an hour and drive them on our roads, where you cannot go faster than 50 km an hour."
If traffic jams are counted, too, the average speed on Moscow Oblast roads comes to about 40 km an hour at best.
Many people point out that since the road tax was abolished, the state has no money for building new roads.
But, if authorities are to prevent traffic from coming to a complete standstill, roads must be built, especially now that more people are moving to Moscow Oblast to live. And most of these people must commute to Moscow for work.
Toll roads are being touted as one solution. "We have a lot of projects for toll roads in the Moscow Oblast," said Mosavtodor representative Viktor Shifrin. "Four of these projects are the most realistic a connection in the Krasnogorsk district around the Volokolamsk and Rizhskoye highways; a bypass road in Odintsovo; a bypass road around Zheleznodorozhny and Lyubertsy; and an alternative route to Leningradskoye Shosse leading out from Moscow."
These roads are to be built with money from private investors, who would then make profits from toll fees and roadsides for cafes, petrol stations and other services.
Some participants in road construction are skeptical, however, about attempts to involve private investment in road construction.
"I am afraid that toll roads here would go the same way as paid parking in the center of Moscow, where young men collect the money and it goes into their own pockets," said one expert. "We need financial transparency because, without it, no investor will give money, all the more so as this is a costly business."
Specialists say that the issue is not about whether roads should be free or toll roads, but about actually getting them built.
"During the Soviet era, authorities would occasionally announce that the next five-year plan would be about building roads," the specialist said. "Seven five-year plans have taken place since then, the regime in power has changed, and still no one has begun building roads."
Although Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov graduated from the Road Transport Institute, it does not seem to occur to him that even with oil, economic diversification and a stronger currency, no economy can develop without a suitable road transport infrastructure.
Russia appears to have learned nothing from the experience of other countries, especially the United States and Germany, which launched their market takeoff by building roads.
In the end, it turns out that everyone is guilty the engineers for not designing roads, the builders for building in such a way that there is nowhere to lay roads, the traffic police for not being able to handle traffic jams and drivers for not driving properly.
In short, there are plenty of guilty parties but no roads.