Highways keep collapsing - this time in Germany

Călin Rechea
Ziarul BURSA #English Section /

Highways keep collapsing - this time in Germany

Angela Merkel inaugurated the highway in December 2005, less than a month after she became chancellor of Germany.

The highway was built on the territory of the former East Germany, connects Lubeck and the Polish border, after the junction with A11, and goes through the electoral precinct of chancellor Merkel.

Almost 12 years after the inauguration, in autumn last year, a segment of 100 meters collapsed and it will take several months before the repairs are completed. You can find photos on the website of Ostsee Zeitung, if you search for "spektakulären Krater", an expression which needs no further translation.

For now, the federal government is trying to find who is responsible, according to a recent article by the Rostock newspaper. This has not prevented the authorities from giving the repairs contract to a company which was involved directly in the construction of the highway, because there have been no alternatives.

"Germany's road, bridge and railroad network, which was once a subject of envy, is now degrading following the deficient investments conducted in the last decades", according to a Bloomberg article, where it is stated that, in terms of the quality of roads, Germany has dropped to the 15th place, after Oman and Portugal, according to data concerning competitiveness at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The degradation of infrastructure, which leads to increasingly frequent traffic blocks, has led to additional costs for the economy of approximately 60 billion Euros in 2017, according to data from a study by the Duisburg-Essen University reproduced by Bloomberg.

Bloomberg also writes that the amount of the investment deficit by the German local authorities, which does not include the national or regional projects, was 159 billion Euros in 2017, according to a study by the KfW bank. The deficit of the investments in the route infrastructure represents about 25% of that amount.

On a federal level the situation is similar. The data by the Federal Statistics Bureau (Destatis) show that net investments have been negative for the most part during Angela's Merkel's time as chancellor (vezi graficul).

But why aren't investments being made at the level of the local administrations? Because it is impossible, because most of them are bankrupt. Marcel Fratzscher, the president of the German Institute for Economic Studies (DIW), has recently asked the federal authorities to wipe the debts of the most indebted municipalities, according to Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten, because otherwise the investment deficit cannot be covered anymore.

The major problems of the transport level infrastructure are also supplemented by those pertaining to the "digital economy". When it comes to the degree of penetration of the mobile telephony networks, Germany is ranked 76th in the world, after Algeria, Mali and Sri Lanka, according to data from the WEF reported by Bloomberg.

In this context, came the tragedy of Genova, where the collapse of a highway bridge built in the 60s had dramatic consequences and brought to the attention of the press and the public the serious state of infrastructure in Europe.

Matteo Salvini, the president of the La Lega party of the government coalition of Italy, said that "there can be no compromise between the fiscal rules and the safety of Italians", and "if foreign restrictions prevent us from spending on safe schools and roads, then we need to ask ourselves what is the point of following these rules".

Unfortunately, the budgetary restrictions imposed at the level of the EU don't necessarily come from Brussels, but rather they are the result of the massive spending associated with the "welfare state". The populism of the authorities in the States of the Union, far before that notion became a "boogaboo" of the "European democracies", has made them turn their "generosity" towards irresponsible and unsustainable social spending.

The direct consequence was the reduction of the funds for the maintenance and development of the transport infrastructure.

Nowadays, the bill is rising daily, not just in Europe, but also in the United States. The Economist recently wrote that "the degradation of infrastructure is a global problem", as "even back in 1999 a study found that 30% of the road bridges in Europe had different faults", and a report by American Road & Transportation Builders Association, of January 2018, shows that "54,259 of the 612,677 bridges have structural flaws". As stated by the chief economist of the organization, "given the current rate of repair and replacement, the issues will be resolved in 37 years".

Online publication The Local recently wrote that "the risk of collapse for bridges can no longer be neglected" and it offers the example of a bridge across the Rhine, which is part of the highway that ties the cities of Leverkusen and Köln. Since 2016 big vehicles are restricted from crossing that bridge.

Architect Richard Dietrich told Hanoversche Allgemeine Zeitung that "our bridges are degrading at a dangerous rate, and the risk of collapse cannot be neglected", as a report from the Federal Highway Research Institute (BASt) shows that "only 12.5% of the road bridges in Germany are in a good state, whereas 12.4% are in an advanced state of degradation".

In the article concerning the collapse of the segment of the A20 highway, Bloomberg also reminds that the residents of some important cities, such as Offenbach or Mönchengladbach, have protested against the degradation of the highways by transforming the holes into aquariums or minigolf plots of land.

Then there are "white elephants" like the new airport in Berlin, which are still waiting for their inauguration, six years after their deadline, and after costs which have so far reached 6 billion Euros, or the new train station in Stuttgart, which will be opened, if all things go well, 4 years late and 4 billion Euros over the initial budget.

In the opinion of analysts are Berenberg bank, "the badly thought out austerity policies have determined the collapse of public investments in Europe", according to Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in The Telegraph.

Now, the new government in Rome has announced it would launch a new "Marshall Plan", which can reach as much as 80 billion Euros, to rebuild the infrastructure. The funds would come, of course, from loans, but the Italian authorities are ready to invoke the "golden rule", according to which investments will no longer be included in the budget deficit, as the British journalist writes.

Unfortunately, no matter how "golden" some European regulations are, the debts will accrue and will have to be paid, even if they will not be included in the "official" bookkeeping.

This is the context where the European authorities are terrified as they wait for the end of the quantitative easing program of the ECB, which will highlight their incompetence and irresponsibility.

How can we look to the stars and aspire to solve the social issues, when we need to be watching our steps, to avoid falling into a hole?

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