03 Feb 2023, 12:52
Benjamin Wehrmann

Plans to fast-track expansion of Germany's highway network spark resistance

Der Tagesspiegel / Clean Energy Wire

Plans by the German transport ministry (BMDV) to speed up construction and enlargement of hundreds of kilometres of new and larger highways across the country are being met with resistance by environmental groups, who argue new roads completely run counter to the transport sector’s required decarbonisation. “There’s no minister in Germany who undermines the climate targets the way transport minister Volker Wissing does,” Luisa Neubauer of climate activist group Fridays for Future told newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. Neubauer said new highway construction is a “red line” in the transport sector. “Otherwise, we can scrap the climate targets,” she argued. Fridays for Future called for a nationwide strike against the plans, while activist Neubauer said the transport sector would remain the group’s focus throughout the whole year. She appealed to the FDP’s coalition partner Green Party to oppose the transport ministry’s plans and to impose a moratorium on new highway construction. Environmental group BUND stated that the 144 construction projects planned by Wissing’s ministry span 1,300 kilometres and would cost up to 30 billion euros. “This ‘bottleneck’ removal would increase CO2 emissions and destroy precious natural habitats,” BUND head Olaf Bandt said. The money could be spent much more efficiently on repairing and modernising existing roads, Bandt argued.

Wissing, who hails from the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP), last month announced new ‘Autobahn’ projects around many large cities, arguing that especially higher freight transport volumes expected in the future require greater road traffic capacities. “The road is our most important transport route,” Wissing said, adding that many bottlenecks in the network would create a significant obstacle to traffic flows. The solution, he said, is to fast-track highway construction, as road freight in the future would be undertaken with decarbonised propulsion systems that allow the sector to meet its climate targets, he added.

With over 13,000 kilometres, Germany already has one of the largest and most dense highway networks in the world. Due to its central location in Europe and a large population, but also thanks to decades of car-friendly policies, the generally speed limit- and toll-free German highways are among the most used on the continent.

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