Germany, united Autoland: Transport policy has been focused on road expansion for decades – including in the current Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan. Critics complain that climate protection goals cannot be achieved in this way.
A spectacular stretch of road stretches almost 160 meters above the Moselle valley: the Hochmosel Bridge. Four lanes more than one and a half kilometers long, traffic has been rolling over the structure for almost three years. Decades of planning, a total of 500 million euros in construction costs – a prestige project.
The idea: to open the traffic axis from the Rhine-Main area to the industrial ports in Rotterdam and Antwerp. The goal was highly controversial from the start, as the route of federal highway 50 cuts through historic, highly renowned vineyards on the Moselle at this point: Zeltinger Himmelreich, Ürziger Würzgarten or Wehlener Sonnenuhr.
But the project was politically wanted. The then Prime Minister of Rhineland-Palatinate Kurt Beck (SPD) said in 2008: “It is one of the most important road construction projects for our state, because with it we are integrating Rhineland-Palatinate into Western Europe.”
Planning based on needs
At the time, the state government’s forecast for traffic volume in 2025 was: 25,000 vehicles per day, of which 6,000 were trucks. The actual figures from the most recent 2021 traffic census are far from this. Just a quarter of the hoped-for freight traffic – namely around 1,600 trucks – pass the bridge daily, in total there are only about 10,000 vehicles.
Trier traffic expert Heiner Monheim finds this unsurprising. For him, the bridge is a bad plan. “Because it no longer fits in today,” explains Monheim. “It originally dates back to the 1960s and 1970s and had a lot to do with the Cold War and the connection of the NATO airports in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. It is totally oversized, and its main flaw is that she has no rail.”
Planning based on needs – what does that mean for future projects? The Rhineland-Palatinate Transport Minister Daniela Schmitt (FDP) defends the High Moselle crossing: “Rhineland-Palatinate is a flat state, and that is why it is so important that we stabilize our spending and investments in the infrastructure and continue to make it available. And that includes the Well-developed road ultimately just like the bridge.”
Criticism from BUND
Another major project – closing the gap in the A1 in the Eifel – is currently being pushed forward. 25 kilometers of motorway between Blankenheim in North Rhine-Westphalia and Kelberg in Rhineland-Palatinate are to be built. In July 2023, the federal and state authorities issued a planning approval decision for a section.
Transport Minister Schmitt spoke of an important milestone: “The people in the region have been waiting for decades for the completion of this important project. It’s about providing commuters with a good offer, but also many medium-sized companies in the Eifel. And we will push this issue forward vigorously.”
The Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation Germany (BUND) criticizes further bad planning. He believes it is sufficient to expand the existing federal road into a motorway. Even if the gap were closed, no more than 20,000 vehicles would pass through the route every day – you don’t need a motorway for that.
Wissing plans differently
The traffic forecast from Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing looks completely different. In March, the FDP politician presented his figures up to 2051 – a drastic increase compared to the original planning up to 2030, because the population will grow.
The Federal Transport Infrastructure Plan 2030 would only be properly planned if people did not consume anything, did not work and did not exercise in their free time, said Wissing. “However, if these people shop because they eat, when they go to work, when they go for leisure, when they go on vacation, and if they also order online, then it won’t work.”
Passenger traffic will increase by 13 percent compared to 2019, and freight traffic by 46 percent. Wissing’s consequence: Motorway expansion in Germany is to be accelerated in 144 places. The Federal Minister of Transport received approval from the federal motorway operator Autobahn GmbH. It is important to preserve the “backbone of the transport infrastructure”.
Traffic expert: Meet climate goals
Transport expert Monheim, on the other hand, calls for less roads, more rail. When the High Moselle crossing was planned, a German climate protection law was still a long way off. In 2015, at the Paris Climate Conference, it was decided to limit global warming to well below two degrees, and if possible to 1.5 degrees.
A goal to which the federal government has also committed itself, but which, from Monheim’s point of view, cannot be achieved with the current planning: “We have the Paris Climate Convention, which is constitutionally binding, and we have the ruling of the Federal Constitutional Court on climate policy, and who is against these two “If you violate the fundamental provisions – and that’s what transport policy does with the many road projects – then you’re acting unconstitutionally.”
In order to meet the climate goals, car traffic must be significantly reduced, said Monheim. “The Federal Environment Agency has carried out studies into how much car traffic and how much motorization would be climate-friendly; we end up with 150 motor vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants.” There are currently more than four times as many in Rhineland-Palatinate – namely 634. This puts the state in second place nationwide.
Is “keep it up” enough?
From the point of view of the responsible Rhineland-Palatinate state minister, Schmitt, a climate-friendly, contemporary transport policy means a “smart transport mix”: “That’s the road, but of course also the rail and waterways, and when it comes to individual transport, we need a good mobility offer for people in rural areas .” That’s why motorized private transport also has a future – and it needs well-developed roads and bridges.
The transport sector has not met the climate targets set in the past two years, as the Federal Ministry of Transport also admits. It remains questionable whether “business as usual” in transport policy can contribute to this.