Belarus began to build concrete roads in the late 1960s. The first such road connected Kalinkovichi and Pinsk. Its length was 250 kilometers. It was the first Class 2 cement concrete road made of monolithic slabs. A concrete section was built on the Moscow-Minsk-Brest highway for the 1980 Olympic Games. Later, the technology was used to build local roads. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the concrete roads story in Belarus hit a cul-de-sac. How is the Belarusian government planning to fulfill Lukashenko's instruction to build concrete roads? What is the status of the cement industry in Belarus? What is the advantage of concrete? This and more are in the new episode of the project "After The Fact: Lukashenko's Decisions".
Belarusian cement industry today
“One of the most important tasks is to keep pace in engineering and transport infrastructure development. Road and housing construction, improvement of settlements are the key to ensuring a comfortable life in the regions. We need to return to large-scale construction of concrete highways. This issue will be under stringent control. I have warned individual members of the government about that. After all, I have showed you how it should be done. We bought the latest equipment before the sanctions were imposed. Concrete roads are salvation in our weather conditions. Concrete roads mean durability. This is a task for the government and local authorities, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said in his address to the Parliament and the people this year.
Let's see what is unique about concrete and why, after all this time, the president returned to the topic of large-scale construction of concrete highways. Concrete is a building mixture that is composed of cement, sand and special aggregates. In terms of properties, it can compete with marble and granite. There are different types of concrete, but cement is the key component. It is also figuratively called the "bread of construction". It is impossible to imagine any construction site without it, be it a sidewalk or a skyscraper.
The cement industry in Belarus is represented by three companies: Krasnoselskstroymaterialy, Belarusian Cement Plant, Krichevtsementnoshifer. By the way, in 1999, foreign investors offered $25 million for Krasnoselskstroymaterialy. The decision by Aleksandr Lukashenko was to keep the enterprise in state ownership. A turning point in the development of the country's cement industry was a meeting hosted by the president in July 2007. Then the head of state instructed the government to take measures to increase the annual output of cement at Belarusian enterprises to 10 million tonnes. In December 2008, a corresponding decree was issued. Modernization of the industry began.
Why concrete was used in the construction of Minsk Ring Road 2?
After the modernization of three cement plants, Belarus weaned off its reliance on imports. Domestic specialists mastered the German and American technologies of placing concrete. This is the footage from 2014. The president was shown the construction site for the second ring road in Minsk District. The transport industry, builders and designers concurred that the president's decision to switch to large-scale construction of concrete roads was the right one. If the necessary technological specifications are observed, the warranty period for such highways is up to 25 years. For comparison, it is only 10 years for asphalt roads. In addition, concrete roads can handle heavy loads. Thus, they are more suitable for heavy truck traffic. Today we take the second Minsk Ring Road for granted. Back in the day it was seen as a real lifeline. After all, the first ring road was extremely overloaded.
“Such roads have a good future, a long one,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said as he inspected the construction site of Minsk Ring Road 2. For the construction of concrete roads, you need only local raw materials which are available in sufficient quantities in Belarus. Meanwhile you need bitumen produced from imported oil for asphalt roads. Thus, the need for expensive imported raw materials is reduced and the utilization of cement plants increases.
Minsk Ring Road 2 was built in two stages. The first section was commissioned in 2015. It was over 46km long. The second one, 41km long, was opened in December 2016. It took 315,000 m3 of concrete to build the bridge. Belarus-made top-quality cement was used for the project.
“We will be proud of building such a road even many years from now. It was important for me to retain labor collectives and jobs in the construction sector. Everyone, up to the World Bank, has admitted that the project cost us two to three times less than it would take our neighbors,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the ceremony to unveil Minsk Ring Road 2 in December 2016.
What cement concrete roads will be repaired in 2023?
In 2015-2022, 176 km of cement concrete highways were constructed and refurbished in Belarus. More will be built and rebuilt this year, too. Western partners are putting a spanner in the works. For example, it was planned to reconstruct the M3 Minsk-Vitebsk highway and 13 bridge structures using a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Yet, the bank discontinued all operations due to geopolitical reasons.
“After we lost access to these loans, we managed to find other sources of funding, and today all projects are running. They are financed by the budget. In 2014-2015, two concrete-laying complexes were purchased from companies from the USA and Europe. They were used to implement large-scale projects in Belarus, such as the construction of the second Minsk Ring Road, P80 and P23 highways and other roads,” said Sergei Leonchik, Head of the Road Development Department of the Roads Directorate at the Transport and Communications Ministry of the Republic of Belarus.
According to him, the construction of cement concrete roads continues. “This year, there are plans to rebuild the Sloboda-Novosady road and to continue the reconstruction of roads leading to Zhodino. We are also set to refurbish the M3 Minsk-Vitebsk road. We will embark on the work this year starting from the Logoisk-Pleshchenitsy section,” Sergei Leonchik said as he laid out road repair plans.
Repair of bridges is just as important as road overhaul. A light and laser show, a dancing traffic controller, ‘street dances' - the opening of the overpass in Grodno on the eve of the Easter weekend was quite spectacular. The overhaul took almost a year. Another project, the construction of the bridge in Lida District will be completed by the end of 2023. Experts calculated that it would be cheaper to build a new one than to restore the old one. All in all, upon the president's instruction, 12 facilities will be built or rebuilt this year.
According to Sergei Leonchik, a few years ago, all bridge structures on major highways were examined. “The examination revealed that 32 structures need urgent repairs. We started this project with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and today we are implementing it using budgetary funds. Last year we commissioned four bridges, this year we plan to put into operation four overpass bridges. All 12 structures will be delivered on time,” Sergei Leonchik assured.
Maintenance and repair of local roads
Back in 2014, while commissioning the second ring road, the head of state asked not to overlook local roads. The president keeps reminding about it every now and then. Everything should be taken good care of: from a small road in the countryside to a major highway.
"The most important task for us now is to take care of roads. Everyone uses cars. Some issues need to be addressed by housing and utilities services. The deputy prime minister told me that he ordered to surface a road in every village with concrete. Not asphalt, but concrete. Because an asphalt pavement will be filled with cracks and potholes, while concrete is more durable. In general, we agreed to increase the use of cement for this. But this task is not fulfilled. We should set our priorities right. In a small village with just two residents, we can just pave a road instead of laying concrete there. Concrete should be used on busy roads in agro-towns, district capitals and other population centers where roads are or will be used a lot. This is the way we should approach this matter,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said at the Council of Ministers meeting to discuss road development.
What Russian regions need Belarusian specialists in road construction
At one of the press conferences, Russian journalists asked the Belarusian leader about the Belarusian road construction secret. They said that although Belarus and Russia lived next door to each other, the roads in the two countries were poles apart. In 2014 a journalist of the Volgogradskaya Pravda newspaper asked Aleksandr Lukashenko at the press conference for Russian mass media: “I can't but mention your roads. Unfortunately, this is one of the biggest problems in my region. You have good roads even in small towns. How do you do this? Have you discovered some road construction secret?”
“We have resumed building concrete roads, because they have proved their worth. We also use modern road construction vehicles. We got back to this technology, especially for arranging courtyards. Take a look at courtyards in the city, roads are all in potholes there. If they were made of concrete, they would be eternal. We will be making concrete roads. Approaches, local roads in rural communities will be made concrete, too,” Aleksandr Lukashenko explained the quality of Belarusian roads.
Belarusians willingly share their expertise and knowledge and participate in road construction projects in Russia. The professionalism of our specialists is often praised by Russian governors. Here is one of the latest examples cited by Head of Tatarstan Ruslam Minnikhanov during his visit to Minsk last week. Last year, Belarusian road builders were involved in the construction of the first toll road Shali-Bavly.
“Our road construction enterprises affiliated with [the Belarusian road construction and maintenance company] Belavtodor are actively involved in construction and reconstruction of roads in the Russian Federation. Cooperation projects are in progress in Smolensk Oblast, Pskov Oblast, Kursk Oblast and Leningrad Oblast. This year Belarusian construction companies are also working in the Republic of Tatarstan. As for scientific and design organizations, they cooperate in technology exchange and scientific activities with all regions of the Russian Federation,” Sergei Leonchik said.
Why concrete roads are better than asphalt ones
Concrete is more expensive than asphalt. The overall spending, however, is lower thanks to low maintenance costs. Concrete surfaces are strong against the aggressive impact of climatic factors. Such surfaces are unlikely to form wheel tracks. Concrete is also sanctions-proof. The country has everything necessary to produce concrete. It has factories, raw materials and equipment. Why not continue developing this profitable project?
“Why can't we build and repair roads today? We don't have to build much, we have to keep what we have in good condition. We've adopted a program to build and modernize municipal roads. We are not lagging behind. The program covers thousands of kilometers of roads. We are modernizing and restoring them. And we have no reasons to cut down on this work due to some sanctions. We will do repairs works. The focus on municipal roads. All roads should be in place from a district capital to an agrotown within five years. Two-lane roads but in a good condition, we don't need autobahns. Roads in all districts should be in good shape,” the Belarusian president said as he visited Agrokombinat Yubileiny in Orsha District in June 2022.