Road tunnel under the Neva for St Petersburg 14 Dec 2017

Eugene Gerden for TunnelTalk

Plans are being developed for a new highway tunnel under the River Neva in St Petersburg as an alternative to the mega 19m diameter TBM bored Orlovsky tunnel proposal that is now suspended. According to recent press service statements from the St Petersburg Municipal Government, the tunnel was part of plans for redevelopment of St Petersburg after the World War II with the alignment connecting Fayansovaya and Zolnaya streets of the city’s Nevsky District, which is the only district of St Petersburg to lie on both banks of the Neva and one of the largest and most populous districts of city (Fig 1).

Fig 1. Route of the future Eastern Speed Diameter (VSD) highway
Fig 1. Route of the future Eastern Speed Diameter (VSD) highway

To date, the tunnel project has been promoted by the Russian JSC KB ViPS design bureau and as part of the future Eastern Speed Diameter (VSD) highway, one of the longest highways in St Petersburg.

The tunnel is one of two options with a bridge considered for connecting the two parts of the Nevsky district. The bridge however was rejected because of the negative effect it would have on the historical appearance of St Petersburg.

The main disadvantage of the tunnel over the bridge, for KB ViPS experts, is its relatively high cost. According to estimates the tunnel will cost RUB 3-4 billion (US$80-100 million) more than the bridge. Total cost of the project is estimated at RUB 30 billion or about US$500 million with preliminary concepts presented by JSC KB ViPS envisaging either a deep level TBM bored tunnel excavation under the river of about 3km long or an immersed tube crossing of about 850m long.

It is planned that up to 30% of this sum will be funded by the authorities of St Peterburg with the remainder from the Russian Federal Government and private investors. Implementation of the project is reported to be personally controlled by St Petersburg region Vice-Governor Igor Albin who has instructed authorities to perform a technical analysis and feasibility study of the project in order to calculate its cost.

Igor Albin, Vice-Governor of St Petersburg region (left) and one of the main initiators of the new tunnel project
Igor Albin, Vice-Governor of St Petersburg region (left) and one of the main initiators of the new tunnel project

This was confirmed earlier this year in an interview to Russian media by Alexei Zhurbin, General Director of the Stroiproject Institute, the main developer of the VSD project and one of Russia’s leading organizations in the field of tunnel and bridge-building. "There is an axiom,” said Zhurbin. “Building a tunnel is always more expensive than a bridge. The tunnel must be built only if building a bridge is absolutely impossible and impractical for ecological, historical, security or other reasons. In this case, we were faced with all these reasons to reject the bridge option.”

The bridge option would have been built in the protected area of the city in the immediate vicinity of the Finnish railway bridge, the northern part of which is recognized and is under the State protection, and would have negatively affected the area of the famous Church of the Icon of Our Lady of Joy of All Who Sorrow. According to analysts of JSC KB ViPS, existing bridges across the Neva have already exhausted their capacity, with traffic in the Nevsky District alone expecting to rise to 320,000-330,000 cars per day in 2018. The planned tunnel will increase the capacity of the Neva as a link of the Volga-Baltic waterway by 1.3 times extending the opening of a drawbridge for at least 1 hour during navigation. The round-the-clock transport communication between the left and right-bank districts will also increase the efficiency of the fire service, ambulance and city emergency services and thereby improve security of the city.

Vice-Head Alexander Ledyaev of the higher education institution Emperor Alexander I St Petersburg State Transport University which specialises in railway transport, said St Petersburg has a rich experience of building tunnels which should be used during the implementation of new projects.

Mega aspirations of the Orlovsky tunnel

Construction of the supersized Orlovsky TBM bored tunnel under the Neva was approved by the Government of St Petersburg in 2008. The project assumed construction of a double-deck, six-lane tunnel of about 1km long, connecting the Piskarevsky Prospect with the Smolny embankment. However the new Governor of St Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko, who was appointed to his position in 2011, suspended the project because of its high cost. The initial estimate for the project was RUB47.7 billion which later increased to some RUB 70 billion or about US$1.1 billion.

According to Ledyaev, the Kanonersky immersed tube tunnel under the sea canal in the Kirovsky District the city was built successfully in the late 1970s to provide a link between Kanonersky Island and Dvinskaya Street on the Gutuevsky Island of the city.

“Building tunnels is more reasonable for St Petersburg and its Neva River, due to geographic features of the city," said Ledyaev. After opening the Kanonersky tunnel, he explained, it was decided to build all new water crossings in the city as tunnels, but that the collapse of the USSR caused a revision of those plans.

Ledyaev also disagrees that building the tunnel will be more costly than building a bridge since the tunnel will be less than the length of a bridge.

Kirill Ivanov, Director of the Dormost, a public association that unites Russian tunnel- and bridge-building companies, also predicts good prospects for the building of the new tunnel under the Neva. According to him, local enterprises have all the necessary technologies for the implementation of such projects. "These are completely understandable technologies. There is nothing supernatural there," he said. Ivanov also believes that the tunnel has more plusses than the bridge.

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