But how to keep such a vast network in good shape, with increasing traffic, environmental concerns and economic downturns to fight against? Silke Humphrys spoke to Wolfgang Würker, deputy chief executive of the Motorway Directorate for Northern Bavaria, and Paul Lichtenwald, chief executive of the southern counterpart, about the challenges of ensuring Bavarians can get to where they need to go, today and in the years ahead.
Financing the Network
Bavaria, in the south of Germany, is the largest of the German ‚Bundesländer’ (federal states), with over 2,500km of motorway connecting its towns and cities. Two administrative bodies look after its maintenance: the Autobahndirektion Nordbayern (Motorway Directorate for Northern Bavaria), and the Autobahndirektion Südbayern (Motorway Directorate for Southern Bavaria). Between them they handle the planning, construction, maintenance and upkeep of more than 2,500km of motorway, supported by 2,420 permanent staff. A lot of the construction and repair work is put out to tender, increasing the real workforce further, and it is the agencies’ job to ensure all works are carried out to stringent guidelines.
The German motorway network as a whole belongs to the Federal Republic of Germany and is mainly state-funded. With the exception of labour costs, which are covered by the individual federal states, it is financed from taxpayers’ money and is free to use for most vehicles. In August 2003 a toll was introduced for HGVs of over 12 tonnes, the proceeds of which are channeled straight back into the network. It is, however, generally up to the German federal government to decide how the funds are applied – where to build new, where to expand, and where to repair.
Motorway Directorate for Northern Bavaria
1,320km of motorway, around 3,000 bridges, 34 service stations and 72 parking lots with toilet facilities are being managed and maintained by the agency and its network of Motorway Maintenance Units. An annual investment of around €350m is provided for this purpose.
In the last few years, the agency completed a major 6-lane expansion of the A9 between Nuremberg and the state border to Thuringia as well as the new construction of the A71 and A73 at a combined cost of €1.9bn. In addition, the trans-european A6 between Nuremberg and Prague came to a conclusion. Currently, there are further 6-lane expansions under construction on the A3 and the A6.
New Operating Models
A pilot project of the Motorway Directorate for Northern Bavaria is currently underway to test a new operating model for the road construction and maintenance of its motorways. A contract has been awarded to an external construction company to build a 6km stretch of a 6-lane motorway, complete with bridges, on and off ramps, noise reduction measures and landscaping. Thereafter, the construction firm is obliged to conduct all maintenance and upkeep of this 6km stretch for a period of 25 years. Deputy chief executive Wolfgang Würker: „By tasking the construction firm with the responsibility for maintaining its own product for such a long period of time, we are hoping for a better quality end result.“ There are plans to roll out this scheme further over time.
As far as the economic crisis is concerned, this has not significantly affected the agency. Mr Würker explains: „The federal government introduced special measures when the crisis hit in 2008 in order to boost the economy. As one of the benefactors of these measures we actually experienced a positive effect as a result and were able to commence two projects earlier than planned. So far we have not felt any negative impact as a result of the recent economic problems.“
Caring for the Environment
National and international guidelines such as Natura 2000 and FFH (Fauna Flora Habitat) ensure that environmental concerns are given top priority during the planning and construction of any new motorway, but there is also a high level of retrospective installation of certain environmental measures to existing roads. One example is the addition of so-called ‚green bridges’, where in areas that have been identified as containing trails for certain species of wild animals special corridors are being constructed that ensure a safe passage for the animals. The measure is quite extensive, consisting of a 50-metre wide planted bridge across the road, with large fencing on either side of the motorway leading up to it. Two such bridges have been installed on the northern Bavarian motorway system to date, at an expense of €5m each.
Measures for Noise Reduction
Alongside wider environmental challenges, noise protection is a permanent problem that is high on the agenda. The agency is continually striving to improve noise protection for those citizens living near a motorway, and one measure currently undergoing testing is a new type of noise-reducing tarmac. Trial stretches have been in operation for four years using stone mastic noise-reducing asphalt, and results have been positive so far. “We were the first to test this particular type of tarmac, which is now being tested in other federal states, as well as in the Czech Republic”, explains Mr Würker. “We are using a total of 25 km of this type of surfacing to conduct measurements and analyses, and the results are very promising, achieving a noise reduction of up to 4db.”
Motorway Directorate for Southern Bavaria
Covering a network of 1,200km, 1,160 permanent employees look after the maintenance of Southern Bavaria’s motorway system. 19 Motorway Maintenance Units are available around the clock to take care of the landscaping, keeping the roads clear during the winter months – a very important factor in this state which tends to get a lot of snow – and being at hand to cordon off an area after an accident, for example.
Like its northern counterpart, the agency also outsources planning and construction projects to external engineering firms, adding another de facto 250 staff in a typical year. The average annual investment overall is between €300m and €350m.
New Financial Models
Southern Bavaria is also looking at new strategies to finance its projects in the future, and is one step ahead of its northern colleagues. Based on the PPP model (Public Private Partnership), a private consortium has been commissioned which has already completed a 40km stretch of motorway, due to be inaugurated in December. A further 50km stretch is currently in the planning stages. The unique twist: the financing for this project will not be made by the taxpayer, but come exclusively from future income of the HGV toll on that particular stretch. The consortium will build and then operate the motorway for 30 years; during this time it will receive 100% of the toll income. Paul Lichtenwald, chief executive, comments: ”This is a somewhat risky strategy for the operator, as for example over the last two years we have seen a 10% decline in income from the HGV toll. At the same time however there has been a toll increase, so overall things have balanced out. A certain element of risk is definitely there, but so is the potential for great success.
“The state has in this case provided some small initial investment; after 30 years of operation the motorway will be returned to the care of the agency – in a condition that has been contractually specified, so there is practically no risk on the part of the highway agency with this model,” Mr Lichtenwald concludes.
Planning dialogue with the community
Building or extending motorways is always a contentious issue and likely to create protest amongst those who live near it. Therefore, about 18 months ago, the agency decided to take a unique approach when it comes to keeping an open dialogue with the population. The expansion of the A8 Munich to Salzburg was on the cards – an enlargement to six lanes for a stretch of 70km. For the first time, a dialogue was instigated involving all affected communities. The various local administrations together with citizens’ groups and planning committees created work groups in which solutions were discussed that would minimise the negative impact for the residents. Mr Lichtenwald: “We are near the conclusion of these discussions, and this approach has been very well received. It just means that there is less of a sense among the citizens that decisions are made arbitrarily.”
In a similar way to its colleagues in the north of Bavaria, the southern agency is also undertaking several tests of new road surfacing materials that enable significant noise reduction. “One of the measures we are currently testing is putting a thin layer – 1,5-2cm – of tarmac on top of a concrete layer”, explains Mr Lichtenwald. “Concrete is durable, stable and can carry heavy loads. On the other hand, it is not noiseless. By combining the stability of concrete with the noise-reducing quality of this special tarmac we get the best of both.”
It is no mean feat, as we have seen, to manage such a highly developed road system. Particularly maintaining the quality and standard of the road surface is problematic. Paul Lichtenwald acknowledges: “There is a huge need for expansion and better maintenance. Even disregarding possible future negative effects of the economic downturn, there simply isn’t enough investment. The road surface is getting worse and we are trying to counteract this problem.”
At the same time, regulations and demands are getting more and more stringent, in terms of environmental concerns for instance, where the goal posts of what are acceptable levels of noise or air pollution are constantly changing. This makes planning more and more difficult and lengthy, sometimes taking up to 30 years! And who knows what can happen in 30 years? One thing is for sure, we are driving more and more cars and are going more and more places, so we need decent roads to drive on. But who will pay for it all in the long run?