Going on vacation? Why not drive to Russia?
January 2, 2001 5:54 AM   Subscribe

Going on vacation? Why not drive to Russia? This gives new meaning to "closer ties with Russia."
posted by bkdelong (9 comments total)
I can't think of the slightest idea why we'd want to participate in such a boondoggle. Just exactly what is this monster going to be used for? What is it that needs to travel that route which can't just as easily be shipped by sea, much cheaper and using existing technology?
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:30 AM on January 2, 2001

It would be outstanding just for the sign in the middle (from the US to Russia) that would say "Welcome to Tomorrow" or the other way that says "Welcome to Yesterday."
posted by norm at 7:33 AM on January 2, 2001

"On the American side a road would have to be built from Fairbanks in the face of objections from environmentalists. For a rail tunnel, the nearest North American mainline station is at Prince George, British Columbia, 1,200 miles away. After a year of healthy oil and gas exports, however, Russia has record hard currency reserves and is keen to open up its frontiers for more mineral extraction."

That is one odd paragraph... First of all, where's the road, and where's the train? I can't figure out what the environmentalists are complaining about. Second of all, what does Russia's money have to do with it?

Steven, they said things about Russia's minerals (and they've got lots of dirt, lemme tell you...). I guess it's easier to haul the minerals to the US than all the way through Siberia? Erm... that doesn't make sense, as they already have a railroad (or is it just a highway) that goes that way...

I do hope that someone has done some math (nothing harder than standard arithmetic, don't want to strain, now) to at least know that the land route will be more economical than sea...
posted by whatnotever at 7:55 AM on January 2, 2001

Damn! I was hoping the tunnel would try to cross a tectonic plate boundary! ... no such luck.
posted by whatnotever at 7:56 AM on January 2, 2001

I don't like this one bit.

Sure, it looks like a harmless tunnel for shipping coal and vodka but before you know it the Red Army will be driving their tanks into North America and Disney World will be converted to a tractor factory.

Those sneaky commie bastards.
posted by bondcliff at 8:19 AM on January 2, 2001

It is cheaper to haul minerals or any other kind of bulk cargo by sea -- substantially cheaper -- than by rail. (Rail, in turn, is far cheaper than trucks.) Also, the route being described would cost a lot to maintain; it's been known to snow in Alaska and Siberia and all of that would have to be kept clear. In the mean time, no tunnel that long can be used with any vehicle powered by combustion because the air would go foul and kill the people inside. The Chunnel uses electric trains (and still has a substantial ventilation system so that people don't smother) and that's really the only choice here as well. So any talk about roads is meaningless; it would have to be electric rail.

I certainly can't see it becoming a significant passenger route (e.g. tourists) who would be more likely to fly if they're going that way at all, so the only justification for it would be to haul industrial products and raw materials. And those can more easily be moved by ship. Eastern Russia doesn't have really very good ports, but it would cost a lot less to rehabilitate one of them and connect it to the rail network than to do what this guy is proposing.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 10:11 AM on January 2, 2001

Re the plate boundary thing: no one is really sure where the Eurasian/North American plate boundary is that far north, but it ain't down the middle of the Bering Strait. No need for any "Warning: Subduction Zone Next 500 miles" signs.
posted by rodii at 1:20 PM on January 2, 2001

Hey, when I was a kid I got bored drawing maps of the future completed Interstate system, so I drew a map of my vision of the Intercontinental Highway. It would have routed up from Buenos Aires, across the Amazon, over Panama, and hit a tee somewhere around Denver. One route would go east as far as Greenland, the other north to the Yukon and across the Bering strait thence to Moscow. A south branch would snake via Singapore, Malaysia, and East Timor to Australia. Another would cross the Middle East and make its way toward Jo'burg. And the other would swing through Paris and provide an excuse to complete the Chunnel. Speed limits, for specially modified vehicles, would have been 200 mph.

I think this fella's operating on about the same level of imagination. ;-)

Seriously, though, there's some merit to this proposal. Bridge and tunnel technology gets better all the time, and several crossings have been completed in recent years that were once deemed economically impossible: from the Chunnel, to the Oresund Crossing into Scandinavia (matched with several so-called Fixed Links in Denmark), to the Confederation Bridge to PEI, to the Rio Playa project in Argentina (Real Soon Now, but very seriously studied). Proposals have been floated for a tunnel under the Irish Sea (using the same prefab-parts concept as the Oresund) to a bridge across the Straits of Marsala to Sicily. Japan has been very diligently connecting all its major islands for a long time now.

The issues here aren't likely to be resolved any time soon: the far East of Russia is desperate for economic development, and Alaska isn't, so much. (Though Alaskans are notably much less concerned about the environment up there than continentals who've never been there seem to be.) But I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see this looked at more seriously by 2050.
posted by dhartung at 1:31 PM on January 2, 2001

Whoops, forgot to throw in these links: the Oresund Crossing, the Confederation Bridge, Rio Playa project (considered a key goal of the MERCOSUR common market), Strait of Messina bridge, Akashi Kaikyo bridge (part of the Honsho-Shikoku bridge authority, which has completed three major bridges linking those two islands and opened up a major new highway from Osaka to the Hiroshima industrial region).

One of the interesting things you learn is that aside from your average slab highway bridge, many large bridges involve significant technical innovation and are literally engineering experiments. One might try a new cable material, another a new scheme for cable-stayed support. (Cable-stayed bridges are the thing these days.)

There won't be too many new American bridges; we've completed the big ones we need (Mackinac, Golden Gate). It's just possible that New York and Connecticut could get together on a bridge connecting Long Island directly with the northern coast of the Sound, either at Rye or all the way out by Block Island. But other countries are now reaching the point where the benefits are there. I wouldn't expect the spate of bridge-building to abate very soon.
posted by dhartung at 1:49 PM on January 2, 2001

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