Bridges Between China and Russia Keep Springing Up

Paul Goncharoff

The last time I was in Blagoveshchensk was in 2015, and while on the esplanade along the river I could gaze on the Chinese city of Heihe. I even caught a faint whiff of toasted sesame oil from some stir fry across the water.

At the narrowest point between the city centres maybe a professional golfer just might, if lucky, get the ball into the shallows across the way. The only way to get across and visit was by a small ferry, 15 minutes and lots of paperwork, especially for me as an American. The idea of a bridge was talked about for years, but it was not until 2016 that actions were taken and not just idle dreams.

The cross-border bridge spanning the Amur River connecting China and Russia between the two cities of Blagoveshchensk and Heihe, was joined today, May 31, 2019 and bolted together. Spans from the China side met spans from the Russian side at mid-river after some minor delays due to ice floes and the legacy of the floods back in 2017. Construction began in 2016. The bridge will be commissioned by spring 2020 and will be both functionally as well as structurally complete by December of this year. The usual bureaucracy takes time, especially technical documentation between the two sides, neither of whom are known for easy or nimble document processing, hence the delay. It is a further “hurry up and wait” situation which is normal.

On the Chinese side they are almost finished with building their border checkpoint facility, on the Russian side construction is still in progress.

The total length of the bridge is just over one kilometre. There are five embedded concrete support columns on the Russian side, and five on the Chinese. The costs for Russia have been about 13.6 billion roubles, the Chinese about 5.2-billion-ruble equivalent. It is estimated that the throughput of this structure will allow up to 630 trucks, 164 buses, 68 cars and about 5,500 people per day to cross.

Russia and China each built parts of the bridge in keeping with their own rules and regulations and using their own building materials. Since the standards in each country differ, they coordinated them to avoid unfortunate incidents and employed whosever standards upon comparison turned out to be of a higher order. From the Russian side, their half was built by the same company which built the bridge from Russian island to Vladivostok.

The Russian half of the bridge is being built without governmental budgetary funding, using a long-term loan from the bank of Heilongjiang Province to be rapid through collecting tolls. The tolls will be 2 thousand roubles for cars or individuals and ten thousand roubles for commercial transport. The term of the loan is 16 years.

Blagoveshchensk

The Amur Region and Blagoveshchensk are hoping the bridge will attract tourists, investors into their region, and establish closer growing trade ties with China. They have the right idea, building bridges seems to make far more sense than building walls. Just a few hours to the east is the Jewish autonomous okrug, with the capital at Birobidjan, there is also a rail bridge being built connecting Russia and China over the Amur. Rumour has it that it might be completed after interminable delays sometime in 2021.

In any event, I too am off to Sakhalin today, and will look out the starboard window of my flight as I pass over Blagoveshchensk…. maybe I’ll catch a glimpse, who knows?

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