Saturday, October 19, 2013

Route N-II—Where cars become coffins

It is widely known that infrastructure investments by the various Spanish governments in Catalonia have never been equal to those in other parts of Spain. The high percentage of toll roads compared to free motorways, the scarce (almost non-existent) investment in commuter rails, or the delayed connection between the Barcelona seaport and Europe’s railways are some examples of these damaging policies against Catalonia, and even against Spanish interests, which slow down economic growth.

However, one of the most poignant cases, because of the amount of casualties involved, is that of Route N-II, which goes from Madrid to the French border. This route is scheduled to be converted into a 4-lane motorway over 33% of its length (257 km). Even disregarding the level of human casualties, Route N-II is unique in that out of the 6 radial roads devised by Philip V, it is the only one that was never finished, and it seems it won't be finished in the near future, taking in account the current budget cuts.

Let look at what the figures tell us. The unfinished sections are those between Zaragoza and Lleida (113 km, 14% of the length) and the one between Barcelona and the French border (144 km, 19% of route). This makes it clear that the Spanish government does not consider communications with Catalonia to be a crucial matter, since the undeveloped segments connect exclusively with Catalonia, they comprise over the half of the total, and have a huge impact on transportation in Catalonia. It would seem that main toll-less connecting route between Spain and Europe would deserve some better treatment.

The accident rate on this road is extremely high. 60 people died between 2008 and 2012 and, on average, it results in every week there is one dead or injured person. This is too high a toll to pay. Also, in 60% of the accidents a truck is involved. There are entire lengths on this road that have no shoulder at all, and the road is in bad shape because works have been put on hold, as is the case between the 9 km between Caldes and Maçanet, and the 11 Km between Orriols and Medinyà.

The section in the Maresme area (Barcelona-Tordera) simply disappeared, having become in many cases one more street in the towns it goes through. On the 54th kilometer section, one is virtually forced to take toll highway C-32, faced with the alternative of spending hours on end waiting.

One of the most unbelievable things is that plans to finish this have been in place since 1995, which foresaw the end of the works for 2010. It should come as no surprise that Catalans distrust any agreements signed with the Spanish administrations.

From a purely economic standpoint, according to studies performed by several chambers of commerce and local governments, the economy around the Girona area could increase by 9% with good communications in place. This is a very high percentage that is being lost carelessly just because the lack of investment from Madrid.

Traffic density on route N-II is around 30,000 vehicles per day in the N-II, but still the Spanish ministry of public works is saying it won’t be finished dues to lack of money. As a comparison, the motorway between Zamora and Benavente, in western Spain, which is 44 km long and has a traffic density of 4,000 vehicles per day (around 10% of that of route N-II) has been completed. There are countless examples like this in Spain.

The most painful thing is that the cost of finishing the whole route (140km) would be between 150 and 200 million €, at most. It might seem like a huge amount of money, but compared to the 16 billion € of fiscal deficit, or to the 40-50 billion € spent in the high speed trains, or the 33 billion € devoted to arms programs, it is hardly noticeable. On the other hand, don't we Catalans have the same right to quality infrastructures as the rest of Spaniards? It seems we don’t.

Finally, on April 2013, a temporary solution was reached to reroute truck traffic in the N-II segment between Vidreres and La Jonquera. As usual, in the case of Catalonia, this would be done with Catalan money. The Catalan government will subsidize the toll for trucks, and will pay the trucks the part of the toll that won't be subsidized, because as of April they are forbidden to move on the old road and must take the highway. A shoddy work very typical on how problems in Catalonia are solved by the central government: the hot potato finally gets handed down to the Catalan Government. The solution is always Catalans pay, so any solution always comes at the expense of taxpayers or the users, but never with real solutions.

Àlex Furest

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