The Autobahn Hits the Skids
at the end of next year, but the past three months have left him considerably weakened.
Zuma has proven to be a survivor. During the struggle against apartheid, he was the ANC’s intelligence head and spent a decade imprisoned on Robben Island with Mandela. He has since weathered corruption charges and was acquitted in a rape trial. This is the most pressure he’s been under in his nine years as party leader and his seven years as the nation’s president.
Tough months lie ahead. The ANC may lose control of a couple of cities in local elections. South Africa’s highest court is ruling on whether Zuma violated the constitution by ignoring directions from an anti-graft ombudsman to pay back state funds put toward an upgrade to his home. A credit-rating downgrade could come as early as June. The bottom line A political scandal in South Africa is adding to the country’s economic problems, as low commodity prices hit the mining industry. Infrastructure woes are slowing German economic growth On a typical weekday, hundreds of heavy trucks arrive at Chempark Leverkusen, a sprawling complex of refineries near the Rhine River in western Germany. For the past two years, the trucks have been forced to make long detours to avoid a crumbling Autobahn bridge that dates to when the Beatles were singing Twist and Shout in Hamburg. Designed in the early 1960s to carry 40,000 cars a day, the span today sees three times that number—and it’s barely holding up. After hundreds of cracks were discovered, authorities closed the bridge to trucks and reduced the speed limit to 60 kilometers per hour (37 mph). “It’s stressful for our workers and damaging for all the companies involved,” says Ernst Grigat, who oversees Chempark
Broken Roads Traffic jams in Germany in 2015, up from 415,000 in 2013 Share of Autobahn bridges that need renovation by 2030 and other sites for Currenta, a property management company. “And it’s also a growth barrier for our economy, which needs good infrastructure.”
German roads, ports, and bridges still look pretty solid compared with the U.S.’s, and roads in the eastern part of Germany are in relatively good shape since being updated after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. But highways and bridges in the west often date to the 1960s and ’70s, and their shoddy state is presenting a challenge to the country that created the Autobahn, a highway system that in many places has no speed limit. The concerns have been compounded by the delays and cost overruns of high-profile projects: Stuttgart’s underground train station is at least two years behind schedule, and a new Berlin airport originally slated to open in 2011 remains years from completion. (Some say it will never open.)
Germany has dropped to No. 7 in the World Economic Forum’s infrastructure rankings, from third in 2013. About 15 percent of its 70,000 bridges are in “critical” condition and half are substandard, according to the German Institute of Urban Affairs, a publicly funded researcher. With roads deteriorating, the number of traffic jams jumped 20 percent last year, to 568,000, according to auto club ADAC. The government is underfunding the system by at least €10 billion ($11.2 billion) annually, says Marcel Fratzscher, president of the DIW Institute for Economic Research in Berlin. “We can see the economic damage” from deteriorating roads and bridges. “Companies say bad transport infrastructure makes Germany a less attractive place to invest.”
Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said in March that he plans to invest €264.5 billion in roads, railways, and waterways through 2030, with most of the money used just to maintain current infrastructure. “We Amount Transport Ministry plans to spend on infrastructure by 2030
“We know that we have serious catching up to do.” ——Alexander Dobrindt, transport minister
know that we have serious catching up to do,” he said.
Finding the money to pay for those improvements hasn’t been easy. Eager to balance the budget, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has kept a lid on infrastructure spending. While trucks must pay to use the Autobahn, cars travel its highways for free. Tolls to cover maintenance—which Austria, France, and Switzerland charge—are so unpopular that the topic is one that many German politicians would rather not touch. And the country faces billions of euros in unanticipated spending to cope with the million refugees who arrived last year.
Germany may need to rethink how it builds its highways, says Wulf-Holger Arndt, a researcher at the Institute of Urban Affairs. Many German roads weren’t designed to handle the weight of today’s big commercial vehicles, and the government should craft policies that encourage companies to move more goods by train, he says. “A 24-ton truck does as much damage to a road as 10,000 cars.”
For now, there’s no fixing structures like the A1 bridge near Cologne. The span is in such dire shape that authorities have to build a new one, which may not be done for a decade. Construction delays will likely slow traffic for years in the Cologne region, home to 3.5 million people, says Ulrich Soénius, deputy head of the local chamber of commerce. “Traffic will only increase, so we need more investment to keep our economy growing,” he says. “The problem will be with us for a long time.” The bottom line While the government has kept spending in check, Germany’s roads and bridges have suffered, threatening economic growth.
Edited by Christopher Power and Matthew Philips Bloomberg.com