Last May, the bridge located on the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea was opened for vehicular traffic. This gigantic project aims to unite the Crimean peninsula with the rest of Russia.
With 2.035.000 inhabitants, the Crimean peninsula is located north of the Black Sea, linked to the continent by a portion of land that borders Ukrainian territory.
To the east of Crimea lies the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Azov. A modern bridge has been built over this 5-kilometer wide stretch that will contain highways and rail lines, allowing transit between Crimea and Russia without passing through Ukrainian territory.
A historical project
The idea of a bridge in the Strait of Kerch goes back to 1943, when the Nazi minister Albert Speer conceived a project that would allow Germany to lead invasions in the North Caucasus.
In that year Hitler ordered the construction of a combined bridge that includes a route and railroad. To carry out the retreat of the German Todt Organization from the Caucasus, a cable car built at that time was used, which had a capacity of 1.000 tons.
The 4,5-kilometer long bridge was built in the summer of 1944, after the Red Army liberated Crimea. Unfortunately due to the absence of breakwaters in the work, the drag of the ice ended up destroying it.
It took almost 70 years for the idea of a bridge to resurface again. In 2010, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed an agreement for the construction of a new bridge in Kerch.
Due to the outbreak of Euromaidan and the increase in tensions between Ukraine and Russia the project did not prosper.
After the annexation of the Crimean peninsula and Sepastopol to Russia in 2014, Vladimir Putin proposed to the Ministry of Transport the construction of two bridges, one vehicular and one for railways, allowing a fluid traffic between Crimea and the rest of the Russian Federation.
The development of the work was in charge of the firm Stroigazmontazh and demanded about 250.000 million rubles (3.300 million euros).
On May 15, the Kerch bridge was inaugurated in an act where Putin was present. The work was opened to vehicular traffic on May 16.
The parallel bridge that will contain the railway tracks is currently under construction and will be inaugurated in 2019.
Crimea and Russia united by a modern bridge
The inauguration of the Kerch Bridge was expected for the month of December, but it was anticipated more than six months. This megaproject includes a bridge for vehicular traffic and railways of 19 kilometers in length, linking the cities of Kerch, on the Crimean peninsula, and Taman, on the Russian mainland.
More than 10.000 builders and engineers participated in the construction of the bridge, which holds the record of being the longest in Russia and Europe.
Its highway has capacity for 40.000 vehicles per day, four times more than the ferries that currently circulate through the strait. Meanwhile, the two railroad tracks will be able to sustain 47 round trips per day, allowing to transport some 14 million passengers per year.
Of the 19 kilometers in length, 7.5 pass over the water while the remaining 11.5 do so by land segments such as the Tuzla and Taman islands.
The construction of the bridge included the placement of two large arches 227 meters long and 35 high, which will allow the passage of vessels under the bridge. The arches were transported by water and then installed in their place through a unique technological operation.
The elevation and installation of the two arches was the most difficult and complex task of the entire project and took several hours.
To develop the work, other factors such as the environment, climate and seismic activity had to be taken into account.
In winter, the waters of the Kerch Strait freeze to the bottom, so the bridge must be sufficiently protected to withstand the strong movements of the ice masses.
The design of the trace, in turn, took into account the existence of tectonic faults in the area and forced some parts of the bridge to be reinforced against earthquakes and lands movements.
In the construction, different types of piles were used to distribute the load between the pillars: some 7.000 piles support 595 pillars of the bridge. The piles are nailed to 12 meters deep on the mainland and 90 meters in the marine sections.
The bridge is open to the transit of cars, buses and cargo trucks of up to 3,5 tons. The maximum speed allowed is 90 km/h and stopping is prohibited.
The parallel bridge that will contain the railroad tracks is under construction. Its inauguration is scheduled for December 1, 2019.
“It’s a historic day because at different times, even in the times of the tsars, people dreamed of building this bridge,” Vladimir Putin said on May 15th during the inauguration of the highway, while touring the facilities on board a Kamaz truck.
The Kerch Bridge is an engineering mega-project that will benefit the inhabitants of the region. In this way Crimea stops being an insular enclave and happens to have a direct, free and agile connection with the rest of the Russian Federation.
Now it will be easier to transport goods to Crimea, and tourism, investments and the economy are expected to experience growth in the future.