Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed it as an historic moment when he declared the 669km M11 toll motorway between Moscow and St Petersburg officially open this week on 27 November.
The ceremony followed the handing over by France’s Vinci Concessions of the eighth and final section of the road, a 34-km stretch to St Petersburg which, along with the seventh section, it financed and built as a public-private partnership (PPP).
"We have never had anything of this sort before in the history of Russia and of national road construction," Putin told workers, adding that he recalled signing a memorandum of understanding with French President Jacques Chirac to build the motorway in 2006.Â
Putin said he drove the route from Moscow the day before, marvelling that it took six hours, with several breaks, instead of the 10 hours it took on the old highway, the M10, which remains toll-free.
Vinci said it is now "the leading private sector motorway operator in Russia".
Sections 7 and 8 were designed, financed and delivered by Vinci Concessions (40% of the concession company) and its partners under an availability-payment PPP – without traffic risk – signed with Avtodor, the Russian state motorways agency.
The eighth section runs 34km from Tosno in the Leningrad Region north to the St Petersburg ring road.
The longer section 7 was handed over in September 2019. With a length of 103km, it links the cities of Velikiy Novgorod and Tosno.
Costing €1.6bn, including €800m from the Russian government, the two sections between them have 62 bridges and overpasses, 12 service areas and four toll stations.
Construction took four years despite harsh weather, Vinci said.
Vinci Concessions also holds the concession for the first section of the M11, which was handed over in 2014.
Vinci now has about 950km of motorways under its management and more than 2,000 employees in Russia.
Vinci Concessions chief executive Nicolas Notebaert said: "This new motorway between Moscow and St Petersburg will help to very significantly improve mobility in Russia. We will continue to build on our experience and our positive track record in Russia to provide Russian motorists with outstanding service focused on performance and safety."
Image: Russian President Vladimir Putin with Vinci SA vice chairman Yves-Thibault de Silguy before the opening of the M11 Moscow-St Petersburg motorway, 27 November 2019 (The Kremlin)