At the plenary session of the Parliament of Georgia, the United National Movement MP, Koba Subeliani, commented upon the construction of the Panorama Tbilisi project and stated: "A highly important project, such as moving the railway from the centre of the capital which would have removed the problem of traffic congestion, has been stopped. In addition, an overpass was to be made from Saakadze Square which would be connected to the bridge and link two different parts of the city. These projects were approved by the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and other financial institutions which are helping us in developing our infrastructure. All of these projects have been halted by the government and they are now implementing an absolutely unjustified project such as Panorama Tbilisi."

FactCheck

verified the accuracy of this statement.

FactCheck wrote about the Tbilisi Bypass Railway project earlier as well (see link 1 and link 2). The bypass railway project was being implemented by JSC Georgian Railway whilst the planning and construction work was jointly managed by Bureau 23 of the Chinese Railway and JSC Khidmsheni. The construction of the bypass railway was to be funded

by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). However, this decision was not implemented and Georgian Railway started funding the project. In September 2013, when about 60% of the main construction work was already done (and GEL 213 million was spent), the project was halted.

It should be noted that the then Prime Minister of Georgia, Bidzina Ivanishvili, called this project useless and put the possibility of its implementation under question. The official reason for stopping the project, as stated

by JSC Georgian Railway, was that the project was flawed. The company’s September 2013 statement says that no technical and economic studies were undertaken prior to the start of the project and so it decided to hire MC Mobility Consultants GmbH in order to conduct such a study.

According to MC Mobility Consultants GmbH’s research, the following negative factors were identified: railway capacity would be decreased by 24%, the total expenses related to operation as well as maintenance would be increased by 57%, the total length of the railway track would increase to 48 kilometres, the locomotive yard would need to be increased by 26%, the annual operation and maintenance costs for the bypass railway would rise to USD 12.2 million (+51% as compared to the existing), the operating cost of a train would grow by 35%, the operating cost of the infrastructure would increase by 31% and the maintenance cost of the infrastructure would rise by 73%. Further, additional investments deemed necessary for the completion of the project were not included in the current project’s budget. Moreover, according to Georgian Railway, as of 16 September 2013, USD 213 million had already been spent within the current budget. Approximately USD 137 million is left for its completion (without the expected necessary additional investments). The same statement emphasised ecologically sensitive locations within the project’s plan and ecological risks identified as a result of the construction.

Despite the flaws revealed during the aforementioned study, the then Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, Giorgi Kvirikashvili, hoped that the project would be continued after the review. Ultimately, according to the decision of the Government of Georgia, the implementation of the project was postponed to 2016.

In his interview with Transparency International Georgia, the former Head of Tbilisi City Hall’s Transport Municipal Service, Akaki Jokhadze, emphasised the project’s profitability. According to his statement, the project would free up about 150 hectares of land in the city centre and create a favourable environment for attracting investments. In addition, moving the railway would facilitate the elimination of traffic congestion inside the city.

On 27 November 2015, the Deputy Mayor of Tbilisi, Irakli Lekvinadze, and the Infrastructural Director of JSC Georgia Railway, Guram Guramishvili, organised a joint press conference about the issue of the bypass railway. According to Mr Lekvinadze’s statement, Georgian Railway proposed three alternative options for the Tbilisi Bypass Railway project to Tbilisi City Hall. According to his statement, all of these three options improve the project’s economic characteristics. However, the issue of which project is the most acceptable would be decided in consultation with a foreign company in the process of creating a general development plan for the city.

Guram Guramishvili, of JSC Georgian Railway, talked about all of the three proposed options in detail. According to his information, the options will cause a drop in railway capacity from 10% to 15%. However, running costs as well as infrastructure maintenance costs and many others would be lowered. According to Mr Guramishvili’s explanation, the bypass project’s first option would cost USD 300 million, the second option makes the project USD 60 million more expensive and the third option increases the costs even further by USD 140 million.

According to Irakli Lekvinadze’s statement, the bypass railway project must be compatible with Tbilisi’s general land use plan. The plan’s final version will be ready in about 18 months. The top priority in terms of the general plan is the bypass railway project.

As for the Saakadze Square overpass, the project is virtually non-existent as of today. However, the United National Movement has, upon several occasions, called upon Tbilisi City Hall to create and implement this project in order to eradicate the city’s traffic congestion. We took interest in whether or not Tbilisi City Hall is doing any kind of work on this project. City Hall’s Development Service explained to us that they have hired a German international organisation, A+S Consult GmbH Forschung und Entwicklung, in order to help eradicate the problem of traffic congestion. The company held a presentation on 11 January 2016 and proposed several options to Tbilisi City Hall in order to resolve traffic congestion in the Saburtalo district (installing traffic lights on Saakadze and Bakhtrioni Streets, creating short transport tunnels on Pekini and Kostava Streets and so on). After the presentation, the Vice Mayor of Tbilisi, Lasha Abashidze, stated: "The German company’s conclusion suggests several ways for improving the transport capacity of these streets. These include regulating traffic, installing so-called smart traffic lights, creating safety islands and so on. Hence, before making any infrastructural decision, we will take these suggestions into account." It should be noted, too, that the Founder of the monitoring centre, Mediator, Levan Khabeishvili, accused City Hall of embezzlement in terms of this study. During his visit to Radio Palitra he stated: "City Hall spent EUR 40,000 on a study which concluded that traffic lights must be installed in order to eradicate congestion. To put it mildly, spending such an amount of money on this is neither logical nor appropriate. Traffic lights cannot resolve the congestion problem. We need infrastructure for that and it is a pity that the budget for 2016 does not allocate money for the creation of new overpasses, bridges or tunnels."

Conclusion

The bypass railway project was halted in September 2013 when about 60% of the work had already been concluded. The reason for the stoppage, as stated by JSC Georgian Railway, was that the project was flawed. Construction work was planned to be resumed in 2016; however, it appears that it will be postponed even further. Three new options for the project were presented to City Hall in November 2015. As the Deputy Mayor of Tbilisi, Irakli Lekvinadze, explained, any new project must be compatible with Tbilisi’s general land use plan. The plan’s final version will be ready in the first part of 2017. Hence, the bypass railway project will be continued after the plan is finalised. It should also be pointed out that a large scale project, such as Panorama Tbilisi, was started before the finalisation of the general plan.

As for the Saakadze Square overpass, the project is virtually non-existent as of today. However, a German international organisation proposed several ways to resolve the problem of Tbilisi’s traffic congestion (such as installing traffic lights in key areas). We shall follow up concerning the infrastructural activities on Saakadze Square in the future and see whether or not the costs for installing traffic lights in the proposed areas are higher than the money which Tbilisi City Hall paid to the aforementioned German organisation for their recommendations.

FactCheck concludes that Koba Subeliani’s statement is MOSTLY TRUE.

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