The Road of Bones is the nickname given to the R504 Kolyma Highway in Russia due to the horrific history of its construction. The R504 Kolyma Highway is 1,262-mile long Russian Federal Highway which traverses the Russian Far East and is part of M56 Route. The highway is in a region where the coldest temperatures outside Antarctica have ever been recorded, and people consider as the coldest road in the world. Before 2008, the highway underwent a period of negligence making it unusable. Currently, the road is an all-weather graveled road, and in 2008 it was granted the status as a Federal Highway road.
Location of the Road of Bones
Kolyma Highway connects the Nizhny Bestyakh town on the east bank of Lena River with Yakutsk and Magadan. It connects to the Lena Highway at Nizhny Bestyakh. The Kolyma Highway is the only road in the area, and it is known as Tpacca (the route) or Kolymskaya trassa. The region is extremely cold, particularly in winter. Oymyakon town which lies approximately 62 miles from the highway is the coldest inhabited place in the world and temperatures can plunge to as low as -50 °C.
Construction of the “Road of Bones”
The nickname “the road of bones” speaks of the highways horrific history. The road was constructed from the 1930s to the 1950s by prisoners using hand tools during the Stalin regime of the Soviet Union. During this time, political prisoners in gulag provided the labor force needed for construction. During its construction, thousands of inmates died because of the unfavorable working conditions and the harsh cold weather. They shot many inmates dead for not working hard enough while others died from brutal freezing conditions of the gulags’ camps. The bodies of the dead inmates were buried beneath the road or around the road. They thought it to be easier to bury the dead bodies in the permafrost than digging holes to bury them. So, the highway is a memorial and therefore the name “the Road of Bones.”
Traveling on the Kolyma Highway
The part of the road which links Magan and Yakutsk on the eastern bank of the Lena River is the place where the coldest temperature was recorded outside of Antarctica. The road is extremely dangerous especially during winter, which is ten months long. This is because of the reduced visibility, the ice, and the heavy snow. During summers the conditions become even more extreme when mud becomes the worst enemy. Because of the permafrost during these months, there is no asphalt, leading to traffic jams because of mud every time summer rains fall. During October, the road’s condition is at its best when the surface is covered with ice.
Future Developments to the Kolyma Highway
Construction of another road from the Kolyma highway, which links to Anadyr in Chukotka has been started. The road will pass through Ilirney, Omolon, and Omsukchan, and it will cover a distance of 1,100 miles branching to Egvekino and Bilibino. The construction is expected to take about eight years and is expected to be complete by 2025. The first 30 miles of the road was begun between 2011 and 2012, and it will be a graveled road.