Between the western shores of Alaska and the northeastern tip of Russia, the Bering Strait is so narrow that you could drive across it in an hour, if only there were a tunnel beneath the sea. And Russian Railways wants to build one, as part of a massive road and rail project that would stretch from New York to London by way of Canada, Alaska, Russia, and continental Europe.
The plan is called the Trans-Eurasian Belt Development, and Russian Railway president Vladimir Yakunin proposed it earlier this year.
The Longest Road Trip in the World
Image Credit: Sijutech
Yakunin wants to start construction in Alaska. Existing North American roads would get travellers from New York City (or anywhere else in the U.S., for that matter) to Canada, and then across Canada to the Alaskan border. (It’s not clear whether Yakunin also wants to beef up U.S. and Canadian highways as part of the plan, but it seems unlikely.)
A 520 mile stretch of road would carry travellers — and, presumably, trade goods — west from the Canadian border, through Fairbanks and Nome, to the shores of the Seward Peninsula.
If this ambitious plan ever comes to fruition, it would be the first road connecting Nome to Alaska’s other major cities. A few local roads connect Nome to nearby towns — but “nearby” still means almost 90 miles, and the city is otherwise reachable only by air, boat, or dogsled. It’s one of the most physically isolated communities in the U.S.
From there, only about 55 miles of sea separate Alaska from Russia; a bridge or tunnel would allow goods and people to make the crossing in about an hour. Of course, Yakunin hasn’t spelled out how his “mega-road” will get people across the water.
It might look something like this. Image credit: Sijutech
The next leg of the trip is a 6,200 mile endurance run across Russia. The new highway would run alongside the existing Trans-Siberian Railroad, and Yakunin’s plan includes laying tracks for a new rail system, as well as oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure. It would be a big improvement for the region; Siberian roads are notoriously terrible, after all.
Image Credit: Siberian Times
And the new highway would connect some very isolated Russian cities, like Irkutsk, to the rest of the world, although it would still pass well south of Russia’s most remote northern regions.
At the Russian border, the highway would connect with Europe’s existing road system. A 1500-mile route through Belarus, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France would bring travellers to the Chunnel, the tunnel beneath the English Channel that connects France and the UK.
Will it Ever Happen?
Yakutin presented his plan to the Russian Academy of Sciences in March 2015, and the idea doesn’t seem to have gained much traction in the months since. It’s a multi-trillion dollar project, and it could require cooperation with the U.S., Canada, and western European countries, at a time with Russia’s relations with these countries is more strained than it has been since the end of the Cold War. Russia is actively fighting in the Ukraine already.
On the other hand, Yakutin may be a plausible successor to Russian president Vladimir Putin, and the two are said to be close personal friends.
Even if the TEBD never breaks ground, the idea lends itself to all sorts of speculation. You could, in theory, one day make it from the northern tip of Scotland to the southern tip of Chile using a combination of roads and railways. Or you could start in New York, drive across Russia to Europe, then take a detour through Turkey and, if you were feeling adventurous, end up in Cape Town or Johannesburg.
Top image: Sijutech