Full braking in european road construction

Congested roads, road works, gridlock – the way over the freeway is a test of patience in many places. Despite record tax revenues and election promises: the necessary investments in road construction are lacking.

On a three-lane highway, only the left lane is passable because one truck follows another on the right and in the middle

Kilometer-long traffic jam on the A3 towards wurzburg. Trucks line up bumper to bumper. The next rest area is completely overcrowded. Traffic comes to a complete standstill. everyday life on the major german highways – with noticeable consequences for the economy.

Almost three quarters of all goods in land transport in germany are carried by road. A heavy load, because along with the Benelux countries and France, Germany is one of the most important transit countries within the EU. But intact trunk roads are important not only because of their central geographic location, but also for the export-oriented german economy. But the quality of the roads has suffered in recent years. Germany is jeopardizing its locational advantage by failing to invest in road construction, warns the World Economic Forum in davos. europe’s most powerful country is only tenth in the location rankings. Trend: further downward.

Tax revenues in the fast lane

Yet the basic data sound positive: road construction is on the grand coalition’s list of priorities in the upcoming federal budget. But that does not mean more money for roads. At five billion euros for the next four years, investment is on a par with the previous legislative period. "the federal government’s five billion euros are nowhere near enough to make up for the shortcomings of the last few decades", criticizes the ADAC’s traffic expert, jurgen berlitz. "Despite record tax revenues, it has not been possible to permanently increase investment in road construction."

Berlitz makes a simple calculation: around 7.5 billion euros are needed for the maintenance of roads and bridges alone. In addition, the truck toll introduced years ago was supposed to be used for road construction. But that simply hasn’t happened, according to the spokesman for the auto club. The roads are far too much subject to wear and tear: "Lanes are breaking up, bridges have to be closed."

A cameraman films a concrete slab that had risen by 15 centimeters due to the summer heat on the A5 Frankfurt - Darmstadt roadway near Zeppelinheim

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The fact that many roads are in a dilapidated condition is not only due to a lack of investment. In addition, the number of goods transported on long-distance roads is rising rapidly. For the green politician micheal cramer from the european parliament, this has devastating consequences – not only for the environment, but also for taxpayers. According to a study by the EU Commission, trucks cover almost 20 percent of EU-wide distances without a load. Within a single country, the figure is as high as 25 percent. In countries where road construction and maintenance are not partly financed by toll or vignette revenues, this is done at the expense of other road users and taxpayers, criticizes the green member of parliament. Trucks – whether loaded or not – cause disproportionate wear and tear on roadways compared to cars.

"German roads are exemplary

A toll booth on the Italian Autostrada, In Italy, a per-kilometer fee must be paid to use the highway. (Photo: dpa)

At tollbooths, like this one in italy, car and truck drivers are asked to pay.

Conservative european parliamentarian markus ferber of the european People’s Party takes a much less dramatic view of the situation on german roads. "the condition of the road network is not only good in european comparison, but exemplary", stresses ferber in a DW interview. Many countries have invested in expansion, new construction and maintenance measures in recent years in connection with economic stimulus programs, but these are precisely the countries that have suffered most from the currency crisis. "In the coming years, the infrastructure there will be driven to the limits of its substance and not further maintained." the states simply lack the money. The CSU member of parliament sees a predictable development in these european countries: the major infrastructure measures would all have to be rehabilitated within 30 years.

Whether exemplary or dilapidated: a study by the "initiative for traffic infrastructure pro mobility e.V." has shown that germany has been investing less than the european average in road infrastructure for many years now. A result confirmed by jurgen berlitz of the German automobile club ADAC: "even the revenue from the truck toll is only used to a fraction for road construction." large parts of the investment do not go into maintaining the roads, but into new construction.

One reason: in a number of EU countries, rail traffic is declining despite modernization of the rail network. For this, highways are built for freight traffic. "Despite all the political sunday speeches, this network shrinkage is wanted by politicians", says european parliamentarian michael cramer. "Europe’s rail network is a patchwork quilt. The gaps in europe are where the borders are", criticizes the green member of parliament. member states used european funds for their national projects. Transporting heavy goods by rail would be unprofitable for freight forwarders and would take too long: differences in technical standards of trains or rail widths would make reliable and efficient transport by rail impossible.

And an enormous factor prevails: every locomotive has to pay a toll on every route kilometer in europe. On the road, this is a voluntary matter for the member states. "We need a fair framework for all modes of transport", so cramer. Transport by highway is the cheapest alternative for freight forwarders, they say. It is wrong to shift traffic from the environmentally friendly and safe railways to the roads.

For roads, which are often in a state of disrepair anyway, the additional burden also means a further shortening of repair intervals. So more construction sites and higher costs.

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