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Corruption blamed for high cost of Moscow’s roads

Nataliya Vasilyeva
AP Writer

Moscow — Nineteenth-century Russian novelist Nikolai Gogol once said his country has two problems: roads and fools. And roads, according to a new study, cost many times more to build in Moscow than in U.S. and European cities because of corruption.

Opposition figure Boris Nemtsov compiled facts and figures from open sources to shed light on the 17-year tenure of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

“We’ll never solve the problem of traffic under Luzhkov, no matter how much money is allocated for road construction,” Nemtsov told journalists. “The exorbitant prices are directly linked to corruption and ties between road builders and authorities. Traffic jams are about corruption.”

Luzhkov, who has overseen a construction boom in the capital, has often been accused of corruption and of helping advance the business interests of his wife, Yelena Baturina. A major property developer, Baturina is ranked by Forbes as Russia’s wealthiest woman.

Luzhkov has persistently denied allegations of wrongdoing and has successfully sued many accusers for libel.

A 2008 nationwide poll by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that Moscow is regarded as the most corrupt city in Russia, with 42 percent of Moscow residents polled admitting they had given bribes to public officials.

The anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International ranks Russia 147th out of 180 in its global corruption index.

President Dmitry Medvedev announced a drive against corruption earlier this year — but with little visible result.

Clogged roads are a major problem in Moscow, home to at least 10 million people with another 10 million traveling into the city each day.

Road construction proceeds slowly, Nemtsov said, because the price is exorbitant compared with other countries.

Construction of Moscow’s new, fourth ring road is expected to cost $380 million per mile, according to Nemtsov’s study, released Tuesday.

Road construction in China, the United States and Europe hovers between $4.8 million and $9.6 million per mile, according to his report.

The average cost of road construction in Washington, for comparison, was $9.8 million per mile in 2002, according to the U.S. capital’s transportation department.

Nemtsov blamed a lack of competition for the high cost of road construction in Moscow.

“We should hold tenders open to all road companies from around the globe,” he said. “The lack of competition leads to price hikes.”

In the 1990s, Nemtsov served as governor of one of Russia’s largest regions and then deputy prime minister under Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin. He has since become a prominent opposition figure.

None of his supporters was allowed on the ballot for Moscow city legislative elections in October.

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