From dusty to safe

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From dusty to safe

Estonia, like many countries, faces the challenge of maintaining and developing its road network amidst financial constraints. The issue of underfunding in road construction and maintenance is a critical one, and it requires immediate attention. With the potential introduction of an automobile tax, it is crucial to ensure that the funds generated are allocated fairly and efficiently into road infrastructure development and upkeep.

Over the years, Estonia has accumulated a significant backlog of road repair and maintenance projects, with a staggering debt of 4.4 billion euros (in accordance with data from the Estonian Infra Construction Association). This backlog not only hinders the country’s ability to modernize and ensure safety on its roads but also endangers the overall functionality of the state. Roads are the lifeblood of any nation, connecting communities, enabling economic activity, and facilitating essential services. Neglecting road infrastructure puts all these vital functions at risk.

Estonia’s current road development pace, based on the last 30 years, paints a grim picture. At this rate, it would take a century to upgrade the country’s three main highways to four lanes. This unacceptable timeline highlights the urgent need for increased investment in road infrastructure.

The findings of Riigikontroll, Estonia’s National Audit Office, further emphasize the severity of the issue. Their report, published last autumn, confirmed that the current funding model for state roads is unsustainable. To maintain a well-functioning road network, alternative and more robust financing mechanisms are imperative.

While the state roads are in dire need of attention, the situation on local roads is even more distressing. Local authorities report deteriorating road conditions year after year, leading to the imposition of speed and weight restrictions. Some municipalities have even declared numerous roads unfit for use. Such conditions have a significant impact on the everyday lives of Estonians, making commuting and transportation a challenging and potentially dangerous experience.

The Estonian government launched the “Eesti Teed Tolmuvabaks Aastaks 2030” program with the goal of dust-free roads by 2030. However, despite the admirable vision, the funding allocated for improving the country’s gravel roads, which are under state ownership, is projected to drop to nearly zero in the coming years.

The potential implementation of an automobile tax provides an opportunity to address these pressing issues. When enacted, it is essential to ensure that the funds collected are channeled into road infrastructure development and maintenance. By doing so, the burden of financing the road network will be more equitably distributed, with users directly benefiting from the improvements made. This approach aligns with the principle that those who use the roads should contribute to their upkeep.

Estonia’s road infrastructure is and has been for a longer time at a critical juncture. The burden of an ever-increasing road repair debt, coupled with the slow pace of development, poses a significant risk to the nation’s prosperity and safety. Adequate funding, transparent allocation of resources, and a sustainable financing model are crucial to address these challenges. The potential introduction of an automobile tax provides a unique opportunity to ensure the long-term viability and safety of Estonia’s road network, benefiting all its citizens. It is imperative that the government acts decisively to secure the future of the country’s road infrastructure.

Effective state governance demands decisions that align with long-term goals, a lesson not always heeded in the past. The 2015 decision to detach road network investments from fuel excise duty revenues, despite abundant European subsidies and loans, exemplifies this short-term perspective. The combination of excise duty income and European funds could have rapidly advanced our infrastructure, securing economic competitiveness and foreign investments, pivotal for national security.

Amidst today’s dynamic global landscape, swift decision-making is paramount, yet recent political choices lack the stability needed for the country. Relying on short-term fixes like tax hikes to balance the budget suggests past inefficiencies. Transforming governance requires prioritizing national security and economic growth, incorporating practical experience and knowledge into each decision, even if uncomfortable for the ruling parties. Transparency about the goals and benefits of measures, including tax increases, is vital for public understanding and support.



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