The BAM - Baikal-Amur Magistral - was a transcontinental railway line commenced in the 1930s under Stalin, and completed almost 70 years later, in 2003, under Putin (the track was finished in 1991, but tunnels were not finished until December 2003). The Russians already had the Trans-Siberian, but it hugs the Chinese border, and to put it bluntly, the Chinese are the only realistic external threat to the territorial integrity of Russia. So having a vital 'one and only' railway line next to them for thousands of kilometres was strategically terrifying, even back in the 1930s. Now its a serious national security risk. So they began building the BAM Railway, a second route across Siberia, but this time at least several hundred kilometres from the Chinese border.
So what of the BAM Road?
At one time, in the 1980s, it was the theoretically first and the ONLY road across the Soviet Union. It was never more than a railway service track for the BAM railway, but the Authorities were embarrassed that there was no other road across the CCCP so they promoted it as a major road - despite it NEVER having anything in the way of traffic, and never being passable by anything less than a 4WD, and missing dozens of vital bridges over vital rivers that have never been built. There was another purpose to talking up the road; by pretending they had a good road across the country, the Soviets were also trying to bluff the Chinese and the Americans into thinking their transport infrastructure was better than it actually was.
Following the collapse of the CCCP back in 1991, there was no further interest in the road from the Authorities, and under Boris Yeltsin's reign, the road went the way of the rest of the former Soviet Union - it disintegrated without so much as a hint of maintenance.
When Vlad "the Lad" Putin came to power, a new strategy was developed. It was recognised that a transcontinental road was needed to supplement the railways, but the BAM wasn't the place to have it. The BAM went through empty country. All the population across Siberia was near the Trans-Siberian Railway, so any major road across the country had to be built following the Trans-Siberian Railway ... and so it was. In February 2004 Putin went on TV to proclaim the Trans-Siberian Highway, open!!!
The BAM Road had been ignored in the 1990s, because every infrastructure need in Russia was ignored in the tough days of the 1990s, and by the 2000s it was irrelevant as the new plan was now the Trans-Siberian Highway.
So what have we got now? A road that was once the only route across the country: A road that for most parts hasn't seen maintenance since the Soviet Union: A road that in many parts is so overgrown and eroded that only 6WD trucks can drive it ... and then only without load: A road impassible to normal 4WDs: A road that is so sparsely populated that some stretches include a ride of 3-4 days, just to get to a settlement of 300 people.
Note: Don't be fooled by many Russian Road atlases proclaiming it a relatively major road. This is still partly a hangover of the Soviet days in which the track was promoted as a major road for bluff purposes. Further, as we found on the Road of Bones, Russian Road Atlases are pretty quick to incorporate new roads and towns, but they never delete old ones. All Russian maps have the town (and fuel station) at Kadykchan marked on them bold and clear, though in reality the town (and fuel station) haven't existed for over 13 years now. The BAM Road is another good example. It is often marked as a secondary road, as indeed it was close to being in the CCCP days, but now its mostly non-existant!
Its not like map makers have ever been on it to check its condition!
So welcome to the BAM !
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