CENN Position Regarding The Project On Construction And Operation Of The New Kvesheti-Kobi Motor Road

Taking into account a high public interest, CENN expert group has expressed its position regarding the project on construction and operation of the new Kvesheti-Kobi motor road based on the EIA scoping report for the Kvesheri-Kobi section of the Jhinvali-Larsi motor road (available in Georgian), which is given below.


According to the mentioned scoping report, the Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road (a part of the so-called Military Road of Georgia which was put into operation in 1863) passing through the Jvari Pass (2,388 m above sea level) is not able to provide for uninterrupted passage of light-duty vehicles, trucks and buses. In 2012-2016 annual traffic discontinuity periods for light-duty vehicles lasted for 46 days, for trucks – 88 days, and for buses – 98 days. Main factors that affect traffic movement as reported are:


-high gradient of roadside slopes resulting in sharp, smaller radius turns;


-technical parameters of the tunnels, that have been built in the forties-fifties of the last century and now are mainly abandoned, do not correspond to the increased volumes of traffic;


-certain sections of the road that are exposed to snow avalanche hazards.


According to the project, the above-mentioned reasons lead to road accidents (collision with parked vehicles, collision with pedestrians, collision with animals, overturning of vehicles, etc.) the number of which has increased with the increase of road traffic intensity.


The Kvesheti-Kobi new road will run parallel to and southward of the present Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road, through the south and north faced slopes of the main water dividing the range of the Greater Caucasus. The proposed road will start at the village Kvesheti through crossing the Tetri Aragvi River where its riverbed is located at 1,350 m above sea level. The road will run through the south faced slope of the Greater Caucasus, between the villages: Bedoni, Zakatkari, Sharmiani, Korogo, Usharni, Sviana-Rostiani, Zhozhoni that are located on the both sides of the Khadistskali river gorge – the left tributary of the Tetri Aragvi river and reach the village Tskere located in the bottom of the mentioned gorge at 1,850-1,880 m above sea level.


Starting from the Tskere village, the gradient of the south faced the slope of the Greater Caucasus sharply increases. The level of dissection of the surface of this slope with the Khadistskali river gorge and deep eroded channels of its numerous short tributaries increases too.


It shall be emphasized, that the absolute altitude of this section of the Greater Caucasus range varies between 2,900-3,300 m, which is about 500-900 m higher than the absolute altitude of the Jvari Pass (where the present Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road runs). The ridge zone of this section of the Greater Caucasus is characterized by 50-100 m high cliffy sites where snow avalanches often occur.


The similar terrain is characteristic for the north faced slope of the mentioned section of the main water dividing the range of the Greater Caucasus, where the rivers of the Tergi river basin – Narvani and its left tributary Miliona take their rise at 2,700-2,800 m above sea level. The lowest point of this section of the Greater Caucasus is located at the source of the Miliona river  – the Miliona pass at 2,911 m above sea level, where the planned Kvesheti-Kobi new road will run through an underground tunnel (the scoping report does not contain any data on absolute altitudes of inlet and outlet of this tunnel).


According to the project, the length of the present road is 35 km which should be further specified. The length of this road should be calculated not from the village Kvesheti (as proposed by the project) but from the village Mleta, where the section with complicated traffic movement starts. Therefore, the present road is actually shorter by 5-6 km.


According to the project, the advantages of the proposed road against the present Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road are as follows:


-improved geometrical parameters;


-improved road safety;


-reduced distance and travel time;


-distance from protected areas;


-avoidance of traffic discontinuation (especially in winter and early spring) due to snow avalanche hazards.


It is obvious, that improved geometrical parameters of the new road (length and width of the road, the gradient of its carriageway, increased radius of turns, etc.) will fully or partially address the problem of traffic discontinuity and road safety. According to the project, in conditions of a complex terrain, these problems will be addressed mainly via the construction of underground tunnels and galleries.


The average gradient of the terrain of roadside areas is high, which is evidenced by a large scale (1:25,000) topographic map as well as the high drop in elevation (the difference between highest and lowest elevations of a river channel) of the rivers Kharistskali and Miliona that flow along the proposed motor road. The source of the river is located at about 2,750 m above sea level, while its mouth – at 1,350 m above sea level. Therefore, the drop in elevation is 1,400 m. The Khadistskali River is 14 km long, meaning that the average drop (gradient) of its each 1 km long section is 95-100 m (average drop of every 100 m long section – 9-10 m). The surface of the terrain along the river where the proposed road will be built is characterized by similar gradients, which is not favorable for road operations.


Based on similar calculations, the drop in elevation of the Miliona river is 800 m, the same index for each 1 km long section of its channel is 112 m on average, and for every 100 m long section – 11 m). These data indicate the high gradient of the bottom of this river gorge, which shall be considered an unfavorable condition for the operation of the road to be built in the Miliona river gorge. It is noteworthy, that the channel of the Baidara River flowing along the Cross Pass-Kobi section of the present motor road is characterized by lower gradients. The drop in elevation of its each 1 km long section does not exceed 55-60 m and for each 100 m long section this index is about 5-6 m.


According to the proposed project, geographical complexities (intensively dissected and inclined terrain, high risks of snow avalanches, strong flood hazard along with triggered landslide and mudflow processed, etc.) along the proposed motor road will be mitigated or avoided through construction of underground tunnels (1,421 m long in total), more than 1 km long galleries and bridges (1,576 m long in total) at relevant locations. It is noteworthy, that the length of the two proposed bridges exceeds 400 m (each), and the height of the longest bridge (435 m) is 164 m.


The notion that the impact of the present road on protected areas is stronger than that of the proposed road seems to be preconceived. The present road runs along the protected areas, whereas the proposed road, according to the project “uses that section of the present road that is laid along the protected areas.” As for the natural monuments, the present road crosses travertines in the Bidara River gorge. These travertines have been assigned a status of a natural monument long after the construction of the Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road. Other natural monuments referred to in the project: Abano Lake, Truso travertines, Keterisi mineral springs are located far away from the present and proposed roads and they will not be affected by the roads. The Sakhizara rock natural monument is located north of the junction point of these two roads at the village Akhati along the present motor road, therefore this natural monument is located quite far away from both roads.


The areas adjacent to the both Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi and proposed roads are characterized by almost similar physical and geographical conditions (terrain, hydrology, climate, main natural landscapes). First of all, a high (up to 3,000 m), heavily dissected and steeply sloped terrain along both present and proposed that hampers the operation of roads through traffic discontinuity and increased risks of road accidents should be mentioned.


A significant difference between geomorphological characteristics of the present and the proposed roads is that the Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road runs through the ridge zone of the main dividing ridge at 2,400 m above sea level (the Jvari Pass), which is about 500-900 m lower than that section of the ridge zone of the same range where the proposed motor road will be constructed.


Snow avalanche susceptibility has to be evaluated for roadside slopes of both roads. It is noteworthy, that avalanche hazards along the Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road have been thoroughly studied based on the experience of the operation of this road since 1963.


It is obvious, that the construction of the mountain road along the route that is located about 500-700 m higher than the present Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road is associated with technical difficulties and challenges which will be addressed by construction of underground tunnels, galleries and bridges (the total length of proposed underground tunnels is 1,421 m, the total length of galleries exceeds 1 km, and the total length of bridges is 1,576 m).


It shall be noted, that engineering details related to the proposed road are not adequately calculated and analyzed. The report does not contain data on absolute altitudes of inlet and outlet of a tunnel to be built under the ridge zone of the Greater Caucasus, though these data along with the length of the tunnel are very important to determine the gradient of the road which is one of the main factors for traffic speed and road safety.


We consider, that the factors that affect proper operation of the road (high gradient, small radius turns, insufficient technical parameters of avalanche protecting tunnels and galleries, roads sections exposed to avalanche hazards and associated risks of road accidents) would be removed or minimized, if these large-scale technologies that are considered for the construction of the new road are applied for upgrading the present Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road.


We believe, that the operational conditions of the present Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road are not adequately assessed and therefore consider, that the shortcomings of the present road and relevant engineering and technological improvements should have been analyzed in details, which regrettably are not adequately addressed in the project.


Indeed, so-called serpentines – curvy sections of the present road with small radius turns due to high gradients of the roadside terrain hamper traffic movement and increase road accidents. However, similar terrain and associated natural hazards such as landslides, mudflows, snow avalanches, etc. are characteristic for the gorges of the rivers Khadistskali, Narvani and Miliona too, where the proposed road will be built. Moreover, the proposed motor road will be laid on the steep terrain located 500-700 m higher of the Jvari Pass where the present road runs. This factor will lead to reduced traffic capacity of the proposed road. To address the problem, the project considers the construction of tunnels and galleries.


Based on the results of the comparative analysis of geomorphological and engineering-technical aspects of the both roads (present and proposed), the CENN experts group considers that all those factors that affect normal operation of the present road would be removed or minimized, if these large-scale technologies that are proposed for the construction of the new road are applied for upgrading the present Mleta-Gudauri-Kobi motor road.


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