By Maria Antonova ,AFP
SOCHI, Russia — A year before athletes converge on Sochi for the Winter Olympics, the Russian seaside city remains a vast construction site, with traffic choking the streets and locals bracing for another year of nonstop work to transform their landscape. “Construction is everywhere, it is very stressful,” said Sochi native Lidiya Naberezhnaya, who lives in the central part of the Black Sea resort city.
“Maybe when work is over, it will be pretty, but now everyone is unhappy,” she said of her historic town, which was set up in the early 20th century as a Russian riviera after the Tsarist army colonized the region. “The city is destroyed, there are traffic jams everywhere, the roads are trashed because of the big construction trucks.” The Sochi area, dotted with palm trees and old buildings, stretches along the Black Sea for about 100 kilometers (60 miles), straddled to the east by the foothills of the Caucasus range. The main Olympic Park sits far south of Sochi proper, in an area that was formerly an agricultural backwater and the site of one of the region’s largest communal farms. The city is home to a chain of Soviet health spas for industrial workers from the country’s north. The retreats were built on a massive scale in the middle of the last century. Today many of these spas, or sanatoriums, are shadowed by towering skyscrapers erected by investors in recent years, with some buildings as high as 25 floors — a scale unheard of in the city as recently as a decade ago. Workers are building new roads in Sochi, but for the moment the main drag, called Kurortny Prospekt (Resort Avenue) is jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic. When President Vladimir Putin or other top officials are in town, authorities apparently try to solve the traffic situation by diverting private automobiles to the peripheral highway around Sochi, making all car owners take a roundabout way and adding to their list of grievances. In addition, thousands of people, including Naberezhnaya, suffer from near daily power outages, which come without a warning and last for hours.