The longest road trip I ever drove was across the United States, 2,600 miles in all, which took just 2.5 days. At the end, I couldn’t have been happier it was over. That thing about mountain majesties and amber waves is true. But no matter how many times you win the license plate game, long drives can make a person crazy.
In Russia, however, city planners are trying to challenge that thinking. They’re hoping that in the future, you’ll be able to travel from Europe to Asia and then—a few weeks later—to the Americas without getting on a plane. The only catch is all via an extremely long road trip, currently envisioned from London, England, to Fairbanks, Alaska, clocking in between 10,000 and 14,000 miles (17,000 and 22,500 km), depending on the route. Russian transportation authorities envision connecting existing road networks in Russia and all throughout Europe. The 55-mile gap between Russia and Alaska would require a bridge, or, in an area with thick, seasonal sea-ice, a tunnel.
Long highways aren’t a novel innovation—one 30,000 mile one already exists linking North to South America. A train route from Hong Kong to Barcelona started running last year. Yet Russia thinks that its train could be a crucial route of the future. Unlike the Pan American Highway, the point of Russia’s road will be to actually drive the entire thing. It’ll also include energy pipelines, a high-speed rail line, and capacity for heavy cargo. In theory, it’ll drive down the cost of transporting people and goods, all of which need to conveniently pass though Russia.
Which makes clear that the economic boom for Russia is the main point. The road is imagined not just through Moscow but also through eastern Russia and close to parts of Mongolia, where roads, if they exist at all, deteriorate in quality between big cities. Opening those areas and large swaths of land will unlock their potential, and provide new tourism hubs for the rest of the world. That’s only after it’s paid for. The project is still in the imagination phase, but even so, it already has an estimated price tag of trillions of dollars.
It’s hard to tell if the project will actually come to pass. Most of the world could use new infrastructure. Nicaragua has been making plans with China for a massive canal to eclipse the century-old Panama Canal and accommodate bigger ships and smoother transactions. In Russia’s case, new roads are a proven way to connect people and boost activity. Yet one wonders if that money could be better spent updating airports or building new ones even, or subsidizing research on alternative fuels to power future aircraft for less money. Which is not to say that a long road trip is worth dismissing. It just depends how much patience you have for a road that goes through a lot of nowhere before it takes you somewhere.