AUTOBAHN RUNNING OUT OF SPEED: Millions of Germans - not to mention thousands more passing through the country - depend on the autobahn every day. Now it's crumbling... Image: Shutterstock
BERLIN, Germany – This country’s legendary autobahn network, once a
symbol of the nation's public investment in infrastructure, has fallen
into a bad state of disrepair.
How much money will it take to
return the country to its position as a world leader in infrastructure?
The grim state of the 12 800km of autobahn is more of a sign of the
nation's crumbling infrastructure and the threat it poses to growth in
Europe's biggest economy.
Though they date back to the 1930’s and
the administration of Adolf Hitler the multi-lane highways only truly
emerged during the nation's rapid post-Second World War development. The
system was core to flaunting Germany's automotive engineering prowess
in the form of luxury, high-performance, vehicles from BMW, Porsche,
Audi and Mercedes-Benz
830 000km OF TAILBACKS
But the days of hurtling effortlessly
without a speed limit along well-kept freeways seem to be long gone.
Drivers these days find freeway travel more of a stop-start driving
experience characterised by degraded road surfaces, decrepit bridges and
long delays caused by huge traffic jams.
automobile association, Adac, estimates that in 2013 such tailbacks
across the country totalled 830 000km - more than the distance from the
Earth to the moon and almost back again. For many Germans,
driving without a speed limit has been a long cherished freedom in what
can seem like a heavily regulated society. Indeed, Freie Fahrt fuer
Buerger (unrestricted driving for unrestricted citizens) has been the
catchphrase for Germany's car culture and the nation's powerful auto
lobby since the 1970’s.However, with the number of traffic jams
hitting 415 000 in 2013, concerns about safety, noise in built-up areas
and ongoing repairs mean that speed restrictions now apply to about 40%
of the freeways. Marcel Fratzscher, who heads up the Berlin-based
German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), said: "Weak investment:
that is our Achilles’ heel.” A DIW study reports that about 20% of the
network and 40% of bridges are in a critical state, partly because of
years of fiscal belt-tightening. Cleaning up Germany's public finances
has been the nation’s chancellor Angela Merkel’s key goal since she took
the job in 2005.Berlin, under pressure from Germany's eurozone
partners and international organizations such as the International
Monetary Fund to do more to spur growth in the embattled currency bloc
economy, has pledged to spend €10-billion through 2016 to 2018 on
upgrading the country's infrastructure.
40% OF BRIDGES 'CRITICAL'
Specific projects have not so far been identified.
This is on top of the €5-billion Merkel promised during 2014’s
election for transport infrastructure in the next three years and these
sums are in addition to the €10-billion the government spends each year
on the maintenance of transport4 networks.
€120-BILLION NEEDED OVER 10 YEARS
Merkel's cabinet also gave the go-ahead in December to impose an
annual toll on foreign-registered vehicles from 2016 which is expected
to generate about €500-million a year to help pay for autobahn repairs.
The Cologne Institute for Economics Research has estimated that
Germany needs a minimum of €120-billion over 10 years to return the
nation's infrastructure, including the autobahns and bridges, to a
standard which once made it the pride of Europe's biggest economy.