The lifting of tolls opens the debate on the payment of the future

BarcelonaThe zero hours of September 1, 2021. It is time to raise, after more than half a century, the toll barriers of the AP-7 (Salou-La Jonquera), AP-2 (El Vendrell- Zaragoza), C-32 Nord (Montgat-Palafolls) and C-33 (Barcelona-Montmeló). The first two concessions from the State, managed by Acesa (Abertis), and the other two from the Generalitat, managed by Invicat (also from Abertis). In Catalonia there are more than 425 kilometers that will become free. It is the lifting of barriers for the end of the most important concession that has occurred in Spain, after on December 1, 2018 the AP-1 between Burgos and Armiñón became free and on December 31, 2019 the tolls of the AP-7 between Salou and Alicante and of the AP-4 between Seville and Cadiz were released.

But the end of these tolls does not mean that Catalonia will be left without payment routes – it is the community that has the most kilometers – and that it will never have to pay again. In fact, the lifting of these barriers has started a new debate on how the maintenance of these roads will have to be paid in the future.

The alternatives

The government is committed to the vignette and the state to pay for use

Until now, the Generalitat opted for a vignette model, paying a flat rate that would allow it to travel on all high-capacity roads. According to the employer of builders and dealers Seopan, the maintenance and operation of high-capacity roads has a cost of 450 million euros per year. The government was talking four years ago that by paying users a vignette of between 40 and 110 euros a year – depending on the type of vehicle – would raise about 1 billion that would keep the roads, invest in new infrastructure, pay tolls in the shadows and concessions that will still maintain barriers, and part of it could still be spent on improving public transport.

For its part, the Spanish government has recognized for the first time only a few months ago that it is necessary to pay for high-capacity roads following the European criteria of paying for use and for those who pollute. That is, let those who use them pay for the highways, and not all citizens through budgets. In the recovery plan sent to Brussels for the exit of the pandemic, Spain undertakes to introduce the payment for use in 2024 on all high-capacity roads. If it did, it would put an end to the historic grievance that arose from 1992, when Josep Borrell as minister promoted a highway plan that extended a wide network of free high-capacity throughout the state, while in Catalonia only the A-2 was made and some sections of the A-7 and in the rest the tolls were maintained.

Facing positions

Platforms claiming free will resurface

The intentions of the Generalitat and the State to re-charge the motorways have revived anti-toll movements, which have cyclically led to protests, such as the campaign I don’t want to pay. For example, the neighborhood movement for the free use of the AP-7 has decided to reorient its struggle to prevent “never again” the re-introduction of tolls. “The maintenance of the road is a minimal part,” says the movement’s spokesman, Llorenç Navarro, adding: “The information that there is not enough money for roads is a big lie. They want us to believe that we have to pay to keep them. ” According to Navarro, the AP-7 has been paid “35 times more” than it cost and the expressways have been amortized “157 times” with tolls.

The opposite position is exemplified by Joaquim Llansó, vice-president of the employer Foment del Treball and president of the Chamber of Contractors of Works. It proposes a fee of approximately 20% of the current toll to pay for maintenance.

The losers

340 unemployed workers and municipalities without the IBI

The abolition of tolls also has consequences for employment. Abertis has agreed with the unions on an ERO that will affect 340 employees, who will, however, receive the maximum compensation for unfair dismissal (with a minimum per employee of 45,000 euros) and, in addition, some additional benefits and benefits.

City councils are also among those affected by the end of tolls, as they will no longer charge IBI. A local tax that for some of the small municipalities that cross the highways was a substantial part of their income. Cristina Mundet, mayoress of Vilobí d’Onyar, has stated that this money was intended for investments and now it will be necessary to look for “new ways” to finance some of the municipal projects. According to Mundet, the municipalities should receive financial “compensation” for the inconvenience suffered by residents during the operation of the highway.

Litigated pendents

Abertis claims almost 4 billion euros from the State

Relations between Abertis and the State will be maintained, at least in the courts, when the barriers are lifted. The concession company is claiming 4.8 billion euros from the state and it looks like the Supreme Court will have to decide. Of this amount, about 1 billion is for investments made. The rest comes from the pact to widen the AP-7 in 2006, when Magdalena Álvarez was minister. The company undertook to widen the highway, but in exchange for a guaranteed minimum traffic. Then came the crisis and the expected traffic levels were not reached. The state, in the plan sent to Brussels, recognizes a debt with the concessionaire of 1.290 billion euros, an amount that is calculated as the state deficit.

The fears

Changes in mobility can saturate freeways

Freeways now free will absorb more traffic than before. This will force more maintenance expense and will also lead to more traffic density. Abertis also believes that this could draw traffic on some of its remaining toll roads, especially the C-32 South, as the AP-7 becomes a cost-free alternative for drivers. For this reason, it has already created a system of discounts to retain the maximum number of regular users of the Garraf tunnels.


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