Customs consider closing border to curb lorry queue
Minister of Transport not enthusiastic about curbs in traffic
The constantly growing queues of heavy goods vehicles waiting to cross the from Finland into Russia has led the Finnish customs service to consider restrictions on large vehicles entering Finland from Russia.
The aim would be for the trucks to line up on the Russian side and not just in Finland.
Tommi Kivilaakso, head of the Eastern Customs District, said that a temporary closure of the border "looms as the most serious option". The possibility of a closure has risen, because the measures taken so far do not seem to have worked.
Lorries waiting to cross the border at the Vaalimaa crossing stretched for up to 56 kilometres on Wednesday. There were queues at the Nuijamaa and Imatra crossings as well.
Restricting traffic on the border has not been seen as a viable option so far.
A partial closing the border would affect both the transit traffic, which causes most of the queues, as well as imports and exports to and from Finland. Also, Russia might see such a move as a provocation.
Kivilaakso emphasises that closing the border would be a last resort, which would require a political decision. He described the measure as akin to "throwing the baby out with the bath water."
Minister of Transport Anu Vehviläinen (Centre) is not enthusiastic about the idea. "I think that it would be a truly extreme measure."
Rapid growth in heavy transport between Finland and Russia has continued this year.
In terms of tonnage, heavy traffic has grown by one quarter. The number of lorries has increased by 13 per cent, and the number of crossings at the border is approaching a million at the end of the year.
The Russian customs service has been increasing its manpower at the crossings, but it is not possible to increase the capacity of the crossings very much any more.
Pentti Nevala, chief of the highway police unit of South Finland, believes that the queues on Highway 7 could soon extend to close to Porvoo.
A number of measures have been taken to try to reduce the impact of the lorry queues on traffic and the environment.
Some lorries have been diverted from Vaalimaa to the Nuijamaa and Imatra crossings, but the hilly roads near the latter crossings are not very suitable for standing and waiting, especially when the roads are icy.
Parts of the highway seen as most suitable for standing and waiting have been mapped out, and Police been organising the queues accordingly. However, this is a cumbersome method: the highway police have used over 3,600 working hours for directing traffic to the border.
A planned lorry parking area with capacity for 1,000 trucks, equivalent to a queue of about 30 kilometres, should ease the crowded conditions on the highways. However, the area will be ready for use at the end of next year at the earliest.
At the Ministry of Transport and Communications, Chief of Staff Harri Pursiainen says that all signs suggest that growth in traffic will not go away any time soon. While the queues are a nuisance, he notes that the transit traffic has created thousands of jobs in Finland.
"We get benefits from transit traffic on the other hand, it seems that we will also have to suffer from its problems for a long time to come."
Previously in HS International Edition:
Departures of trucks from ports to be staggered to avoid backlog (17.11.2006)
Minister Huovinen: Lines of trucks caused by inefficiency of Russian Customs (10.11.2006)
Backlog of trucks causes congestion at Nuijamaa and Imatra border-crossing points as well as Vaalimaa (24.9.07)
Parking area for eastbound trucks to cost over EUR 24 million (27.3.2007)