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Link in Murmansk-Istanbul Highway To Open Next Summer Graphic

October 17, 1991

HELSINKI, Finland (AP) _ Road builders are connecting Arctic Finland and Central Europe with a highway that eventually may stretch 2,500 miles from Murmansk to Turkey.

Finnish companies will repair, and occasionally widen, the existing road through Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. They will construct access ramps, install signs and build Western-style gas stations along the 625-mile route.

″By next summer, we will have a road that complies with Western European standards, open from Helsinki to the Polish border,″ said Martti Miettinen, director of Viatek, a road planning firm.

The project is expected to cost $2 billion by the time restaurants and motels are added.

Planning of the Via Baltica began in 1988, but instability in the Soviet Union stalled the project.

Now that the Baltics have gained independence from the Soviet Union, financial backing is expected from the European Community and the United Nations, said Andi Meister of the Estonian Transport Ministry.

The Via Baltica is intended to link up with the 7,500-mile Trans-European Motorway being built from the northern Polish port of Gdansk to Istanbul, with a branch to Lisbon, Portugal.

″It’s simply a question of time, but with the newly won independence of the Baltic republics, we see it being a reality before the end of the decade,″ said Miettinen of Viatek.

The Via Baltica will shorten the trip from Helsinki to Poland by up to 12 hours by getting rid of ferry trips between Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Finnish experts estimate 200,000 tourists a year eventually may use the Baltic highway. The Finns also plan to improve the 95-mile road from northern Finland to Murmansk, the Soviet Arctic port.

″What we are talking about here is a vision of a new Europe,″ said Harri Turpeinen of Neste, the Finnish state oil company. ″Murmansk, Helsinki ... will no longer be so far away from the rest of Europe.″

Lack of high-quality gasoline was a problem originally, but Neste has opened three stations in Estonia in the past year and plans more, as does a Swedish company.

Finnish officials expressed surprise at the good quality of Baltic roads.

″Compared to Russia, they are excellent,″ Turpeinen said. ″What we need to do in the first stage is to smooth some of the asphalt and get rid of the bottlenecks near the cities.″

Mayor Arunas Saras of Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, revealed one method of getting money from the Kremlin to build good roads.

″We would tell them the Communist Party headquarters in Lithuanian cities needed renovation, and when we got the money, we would only paint the outsides of the buildings,″ he said. ″The rest of the money we spent on our roads, and even churches. No one was the wiser.″

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