Ger­man in­fras­truc­ture skids into cri­sis on Merkel’s au­to­bahn

Irish Independent - Business Week - - Interview - Leonard Kehn­scher­per

IN Langs­dorf, a tiny 200-per­son vil­lage about 25 miles from Ger­many’s Baltic coast, the only thing sep­a­rat­ing res­i­dents from the lo­cal tav­ern Zur Kas­tanie is a nar­row strip of pave­ment.

The nor­mally sleepy main street is now clogged with about 10,000 cars and trucks a day, mak­ing a quick visit for a mug of beer and a plate of smoked pork all but im­pos­si­ble.

“The noise and the stench of traf­fic are the big­gest hard­ships for us,” Mayor Hart­mut Kolschewski said stand­ing along­side the cause of the prob­lem: a stretch of the nearby A20 Au­to­bahn that crum­bled last year.

The lat­est re­minder of the risks of ag­ing in­fras­truc­ture came Tues­day, when a road bridge in Italy col­lapsed, killing at least 35 peo­ple.

Ger­many is also ex­posed. Its once-en­vied net­work of roads, bridges and rail­ways are de­cay­ing due to decades of un­der­spend­ing. The coun­try has fallen to 15th in road qual­ity be­hind Oman and Por­tu­gal, ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s com­pet­i­tive­ness rank­ings.

Snaking through the ver­dant flat lands of north­east­ern Ger­many, the A20 runs through Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s elec­tion dis­trict. She opened the key artery for the for­mer com­mu­nist re­gion at a cer­e­mony not far from the Zur Kas­tanie in De­cem­ber 2005, less than a month after she was first sworn in as the coun­try’s leader.

But 12 years later, the four-lane high­way caved in after the foun­da­tions gave way in the marshy land­scape, mark­ing the clear­est sign of a grow­ing in­fras­truc­ture cri­sis.

In ad­di­tion to the risk to hu­man life, Ger­many’s econ­omy is de­pen­dent on well-func­tion­ing trans­port net­works to de­liver goods.

Traf­fic jams caused more than €60bn in dam­age to the coun­try’s econ­omy last year from wasted work­ing time and de­liv­ery de­lays, ac­cord­ing to Michael Schreck­en­berg, a traf­fic re­searcher at the Univer­sity of Duis­burg-Essen.

Catch­ing up will be costly. The over­all in­vest­ment gap for Ger­man mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, which doesn’t in­clude na­tional and re­gional projects, amounted to €159bn in 2017, ac­cord­ing to a study by state-owned in­vest­ment bank KfW. Traf­fic in­fras­truc­ture ac­counted for roughly a fourth of that amount.

Mrs Merkel’s govern­ment, which lim­ited spend­ing in the wake of Europe’s debt cri­sis, has wo­ken up to the ne­glect.

The coali­tion agree­ment ear­lier this year calls for record-level in­vest­ment in in­fras­truc­ture as well as €2.4bn for dig­i­tal con­nec­tiv­ity. In ad­di­tion to throw­ing money at the prob­lem, au­thor­i­ties aim to speed up plan­ning and ap­proval pro­ce­dures. Crit­ics aren’t sat­is­fied though. “There’s still much too lit­tle hap­pen­ing when it comes to in­vest­ments in Ger­many’s traf­fic fa­cil­i­ties,” said Mar­cel Fratzscher, head of the Ber­lin-based DIW eco­nomic in­sti­tute, point­ing to Ger­many’s in­vest­ment back­log of €11.3bn since 2013 as money spent by the govern­ment fails to keep pace with wear and tear.

Be­cause of struc­tural is­sues, heavy ve­hi­cles were barred from us­ing a high­way bridge over the Rhine river between Lev­erkusen and Cologne in 2016, forc­ing thou­sands of trucks to re-route.

Frus­tra­tion with choppy streets has spurred un­usual ac­tion this sum­mer: an artist in Moenchenglad­bach turned a pot­hole into a tiny gold­fish pond and res­i­dents in Of­fen­bach in­tro­duced pot­hole minigolf.

Ber­lin’s high-pro­file new air­port is more than six years late and costs have dou­bled to about €5.3bn­due to plan­ning fail­ures. A con­tro­ver­sial new rail sta­tion in Stuttgart is on track to be four years late and €3.5bn over bud­get.

While Ger­many’s old-school in­fras­truc­ture slowly de­cays, net­works nec­es­sary for the evolv­ing data econ­omy are fall­ing be­hind as well. In mo­bile-phone pen­e­tra­tion, the coun­try ranks 76th be­hind Al­ge­ria, Mali and Sri Lanka, ac­cord­ing to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum.

Wire­less dead zones are such a per­sis­tent prob­lem that Trans­port Min­is­ter An­dreas Scheuer plans to roll out an app by the end of the year so peo­ple can re­port re­cep­tion fail­ures. At a sum­mit this sum­mer with net­work op­er­a­tors Deutsche Telekom, Voda­fone and Telefonica, Scheuer also of­fered to re­duce fees for new 5G li­cences by €1bn in re­turn for ex­pand­ing cov­er­age of cur­rent net­works.

“Data are the most im­por­tant re­source nowa­days,” said Bern­hard Lorentz, a part­ner at con­sult­ing firm EY in Ber­lin. “If Ger­many wants to play a role here, it has to in­vest a lot more.”

Langs­dorf is ef­fec­tively at the epi­cen­ter of Ger­many’s in­fras­truc­ture break­down. Mayor Kolschewski of­ten has to wan­der into his gar­den to pick up a mo­bile-phone sig­nal. Mean­while, traf­fic rum­bles through town amid work on the dam­aged 1km stretch.

“The re­pairs are fairly loud, but this is like mu­sic to us vil­lagers,” said the 64-yearold re­tired teacher, point­ing to a bridge head where Ms Merkel opened the high­way. The re­open­ing isn’t sched­uled be­fore 2021. (Bloomberg)

Hart­mut Kolschewski, mayor of Lind­holz, be­side con­struc­tion ma­chin­ery dur­ing on­go­ing re­pair work on the A20 au­to­bahn near Trib­sees, Ger­many

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.