Motorways in the European Union: perspectives and evolutions

June 2015 – n°36

Laurent Ulmann, Editor-in-chief, The European Files

Transportation of goods and people within and across European borders is the physical manifestation of the flows of the European economy. Motorways remain the most important example of this flow as they make up a large majority of the intra-European freight and passenger transit. Since the conception of grand European corridors after World War II, these arteries of economic growth have come under pressure from increased traffic and neglect, all of which has increased since the turn of the century. Mobility is a right of each European citizen, however the challenges involving the financing, safety, and sustainability of motorways mire the access to a comprehensive single transportation market.

Further integration remains central to the European Union’s policies as President Juncker continues to advocate for a single European market throughout the economy. This is inline with the upcoming Road Package 2016. Standardization of transportation network administration through the connection of national operators with international ones is a simple first step in this streamlining process. It is a European parliamentary priority as it redoubles its efforts to pass international laws that facilitate the follow-up of foreign transgressors of domestic motorway laws. It has already been proven to be a great deterrent and Member States have come out in support of legislation like this.

Growing infrastructure is no longer the priority of the European government. Rather, interconnecting existing national and modal networks between themselves, maintenance and sustainable development are more important features of the policies discussed. As the respect for the environment and our awareness of the responsibility towards its well being becomes a pillar of programs such as Horizon 2020 and institutions such as the European Parliament, the importance of motorways and its large contribution to carbon emissions cannot be ignored. The focus is now on the complete lifecycle—preservation and maintenance of existing road structures—going as far as the recycling of future roads. In addition, implementing co-modal and multi-modal transportation represents a concrete contribution to enhancing the environmental performance of the European motorways, as it would alleviate congestion among other benefits. Reinforcing cross-border network corridors, or trans-national motorways, provides higher mobility for the people of Europe. Unfortunately, Member States slashed infrastructure spending as a way to deal with the sovereign debt crisis. Safety targets, a key feature of the sustainability of motorways, are harder to reach if Europe is unable to finance the data-driven innovations that can improve emergency support and response. Technological advances are explored to provide a more efficient motorway experience for lorry drivers and passengers, but the consensus remains a call for increased investment.

It is largely up to the European Union to provide, at the very least, the framework for the financing of motorways. Whether the private-public partnership must be reviewed, it is generally agreed that more private funding would not only be fair but also provide much needed support to the conservative national budgets. This can come from improved interoperability of toll payments though progress remains slow as the European Electronic Toll Service, for example, is unable to achieve more functionality and lower risk and cost. This push for one system is harder to deploy internationally and legislation is being reviewed. It is clear that these systems should play an integral role to the consolidation of a single transportation market. However, expectations and goals provided by the White Papers are also being reviewed. All of this should lead to a more efficient European Fund for Strategic Investments and rebrand the Structures and Cohesion Fund under President Juncker’s administration.

In addition, national governments voice domestic concerns that are closer to the citizens’ perspective. For example, freight efficiency through the use of cabotage is a problem-solution complex the European transport system must tackle. The interests of European citizens lie within a clearer and easily enforced legal framework. What can be a boon for the environment is held back by poor administration and inequalities in single market competitively.

New demands by society shape the interests and obligations of the government that in turn transforms the functions of construction and operating companies of Europe’s motorways. Greater coordination and cooperation with the European Union has been achieved as the safety and environmental objectives in many regional operating spheres have been surpassed. A shared public responsibility is now felt throughout the levels of administration of motorways. Ultimately, the steps taken towards prevention and training must be complemented by safer human behavior through continued education and awareness campaigns.

The perspectives on the future of motorways in Europe are as complex as the number of motorways themselves. Globally, a single transport market is only useful if it remains competitive and sustainable. It cannot be achieved without a neutral discussion of economic benefits, environmental concerns, and citizens’ safety. The future of the flow of goods in Europe depends on these issues and this paper explores what the evolution of motorways in Europe will look like.

Laurent Ulmann